A HERD of wild ponies has been moved after irresponsible dog owners let their animals chase the group around and concerns that children were getting too close.

The Exmoor ponies were put in the National Trust owned fields near Southwick Hill as part of a grazing conservation scheme.

The animals were being managed by the Sussex Pony and Grazing Conservation Trust.

Bosses had said they were excited about being asked to help with the conservation of the South Downs.

However, at the end of last week the animals were moved from the fields, which are near Mile Oak.

Anna Bogg, from the Sussex Pony and Grazing Conservation Trust, said the decision had not been taken lightly.

She said: “We have been seriously concerned by some of the irresponsible behaviour we have witnessed from dog owners, parents of young children and adults in this short time period.

“We are further worried by other evidence and stories we have been given of incidents past and present, concerning the treatment of livestock on this site.

“People have no understanding that they are wild – you need to keep a distance and it’s illegal to take your dog off the lead.

“There are signs that say that but they got taken down and the gates were left open in protest.

“People’s dogs were chasing the ponies around and they were laughing about it.”

She said the trust’s priority was the immediate care of the animals, adding: “It’s basic countryside code. Everyone should know that you close gates behind you and you don’t take dogs off the lead. People don’t pay attention.

“We fully acknowledge that these people and events are in the minority and that it is a great unfairness to all of you who have so enjoyed seeing our Exmoors doing their work. But it is our duty of care to the organisation as a whole and to all 81 ponies in our trust to ensure the sustainability of our work for the future.”

The trust has successfully introduced ponies to areas across Sussex over the past few months. At the end of March, seven ponies were introduced near Firle and three others taken to Lake Meadow in Battle. Previously there were 11 at Birling Gap and last year there were four at Ditchling Common.

The Exmoor breed has grazed in the UK for tens of thousands of years and the ponies are still widely used for conservation.

For more details visit sussexponygrazing.co.uk.