HARDY ponies are being introduced to a nature reserve as part of a £30,000 conservation project.

Exmoor ponies, which will help control invasive species, will take up residence in Richmondshire at Foxglove Covert reserve in the heart of Catterick Garrison.

Without the introduction of the ponies, the reserve is in danger of reverting to woodland.

Steve Scoffin, senior reserve manager at Foxglove Covert, said: “The ponies arrived three or four weeks ago now, they are doing very well and seem to be enjoying grazing there.

“They are very important to keep the park under control and we expect to see results within the next few months.”

Visitors are urged not to feed the ponies.

It is part of a £29,137 scheme that has benefited from £8,756 from the District Council’s Social Fund which supports community projects in the five growth areas of Richmondshire.

The authority has set aside £270,000 in this financial year for Colburn, Scotton, Hipswell, Richmond and Leyburn.

Deputy Leader of the Council, Councillor Ian Threlfall, said: “This innovative solution to protecting the reserve will also be a great attraction for the visitors.

“Our social fund is set up for just these type of schemes – and will promote growth and a sustainable reserve for years to come.”

The Yorkshire Exmoor Ponies Trust was set up 14 years ago to preserve the rare breed and use their abilities to maintain heath and moorland.

They work on other preserved areas such as the North York Moors, the Howardian Hills and the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The scheme has also seen new interpretation boards installed at the site.

Foxglove Covert spokesman Retired Major Tony Crease said: “Once again Richmondshire District Council has generously offered assistance to the reserve - the interpretation signs they have funded will provide graphic information to our visitors for years to come.”

The 100-acre site, home to over 2,600 species of plant and wildlife, has a state of the art field centre which educates and inspires the local community.

More than 20,000 people visit the reserve every year.