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RSPB ponies left stranded by flooding in the Highlands

This week, parts of Scotland have seen heavy rainfall, causing severe flooding. Properties were flooded, crops destroyed, and landslips caused roads to be closed.

With a weather warning in place, everything was done to prepare for the extreme rainfall; trains were cancelled in advance and people warned to stay at home where possible. Most farmers brought their livestock indoors in areas where flooding was expected to be a problem.

One place where flooding should have been predicted was at the Insh Marshes on the River Spey, in the Cairngorms National Park. The floodplain is, as one might expect, vulnerable to flooding, and the river regularly spreads into the area.

The area is one of the largest areas of floodplain mire and fen vegetation in Scotland and is owned and managed by the RSPB. The charity have been working to ‘restore’ the wetland and improve the habitat for waders, as it is an important breeding ground for curlew, lapwing, redshank and many other wetland species.

Part of this management scheme involves the use of livestock, and the RSPB use sheep, cattle and also Konik ponies, from Poland, to graze the wetland area. The first ponies came from the RSPB’s Loch of Strathbeg site in Aberdeenshire, and since the first ponies came in 2019 the herd has grown. But while the ponies are semi-feral and don’t receive regular handling, surely the RSPB has a responsibility for their welfare? For while the floodwaters rose and local farmers and animal keepers had long since brought their animals inside, or at least to higher ground, the Konik ponies of Insh Marshes were left in the ever-higher waters.

Other horse owners local to the area were contacted by concerned locals who were worried about the ponies’ plight, but the RSPB were uncontactable. Despite the water being at almost record-breaking heights, and amber weather-warnings predicting the heavy downfalls, the ponies were left until the only option left would be to swim them out. Eventually, after many calls to the RSPB reserve and the matter being reported to the SSPCA, the ponies were moved away from the flooded area and into a field where they were safe. As one local commented, “This is not the first flood these ponies have been left in and even with much encouragement and expert knowledge passed on to them I sadly don’t imagine it will be the last.”


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