A GROUP of walkers is campaigning to have the Exmoor ponies removed from Traprain Law.

The group, The Campaign Against Traprain Ponies, whose members wish to remain anonymous, says it is collating evidence of damage caused by the ponies to the historic monument, near East Linton, and will present it to East Lothian Council.

A spokesman for the group said: “First concerns were raised about pony damage on Traprain around two years ago. At first, people walking there merely commented to each other on the dangerous condition of the paths and hillside generally, but after accidents started happening and damage started worsening, a few individuals got together with the intention of doing something about it.

“Our stated aim is to have the ponies removed from Traprain and see this protected natural and historical monument returned to its former glory.”

Traprain Law, the remains of a hill fort dating back to 1,000BC, is home to 13 Exmoor ponies, which have grazed there since 2011. There are also ponies on North Berwick Law.

The ponies were introduced to Traprain for conservation reasons, including the control of wild fires due to long grasses in the summer.

But the campaign group spokesman claimed: “Fires are almost never a risk – in the few exceptional summers when they do occur, they are small and localised, and actually lead to a flourish in new growth.

“The justifications used by the council to support their project are laughable.

“No increase in wild flowers has been noted; if anything, the pounding the topsoil receives from the herd, combined with their grazing, has reduced the number of plant species on Traprain.

“Paths have been rendered dangerous – we already have numerous reports of people falling in steeper sections, where the ponies have churned the ground into a quagmire.

“There has been damage to important archaeology, too. Damage was so severe from the ponies’ hooves near the summit that a temporary electric fence had to be installed to protect sensitive remains. It is scarcely believable that the council could have done so much damage to a wild public space. Their actions are tantamount to vandalism, on an appalling scale.”

An East Lothian Council spokesperson defended the use of the ponies and highlighted their “essential” role in reducing fire risk and their part in increasing the biodiversity of plant species.

“The grazing regime at both North Berwick and Traprain Laws is based on archaeological, biological and agricultural requirements and best practice. Stocking levels are maintained and amended as consented by Nature Scot (formally Scottish Natural Heritage) and Historic Environment Scotland (HES),” said the spokesperson.

“The ponies are monitored on a daily basis and carry out the essential task of reducing the fire risk that can be brought about through the build-up of vegetation. Through their grazing of the vegetation this has led to an increase in biodiversity of plant species on the site.

“While overall biological interest has increased, it is recognised that there are limitations. Due to the topography of the site, specific or targeted grazing is difficult to achieve.

“However, the Countryside Ranger service did trial the use of a temporary fence around the summit pond and also around a section of the rampart to protect sensitive areas and have installed a new fence on the south slope to allow for some targeted grazing to take place.

“Paths and access routes at this popular location are monitored on a regular basis by the Countryside Ranger service, with drainage work being recently carried out in conjunction with East Lothian Archaeological Services, and consented through HES, on a section of the rampart damaged through water run-off and footfall. In recent months we have seen a significant increase in visitor numbers, which has resulted in an increased usage of the paths.”