A rare breed charity is marking its 50th anniversary by making new plans in its fight to protect and promote the endangered Eriskay pony.
At the same time it is battling on another front in a long-running dispute it claims is costing vital funds.
Comann Each nan Eilean – The Eriskay Pony Society – (CEnE-EPS) was founded in February 22, 1972 to safeguard the endangered Scottish native breed.
The Eriskay pony is considered the last remnant of Scotland’s native horse.
Listed as “at risk” by the Rare Breed Survival Trust (RBST), it is estimated that there are fewer than 300 remaining.
Pony is an iconic emblem
The society plans to enhance its work by creating exhibition and office space in the disused Eriskay School, which closed in 2013.
Society secretary Sandra MacInnes says the Eriskay pony is an iconic emblem for the island.
She said: “The people of Eriskay have always lived alongside the ponies and they are a prominent part of the island’s traditional culture and natural ecology.
“We are encouraged that the society, through its continued work, has succeeded in preventing the loss of this native breed.”
She says the ponies draw visitors to the islands and it is hoped the breed will have its status strengthened in future.
“There will be a place for the society in the new Eriskay School development and we look forward to the opportunities this will grant us to expand our work.
“Central to this is growing the number of purebred Eriskay ponies, both in the islands and across the UK.
“It’s really important that the society builds on the efforts of the past 50 years to preserve and promote the breed.
“It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but I am confident that we are on a positive trajectory.”
The far from smooth sail for CEnE-EPS includes an ongoing spat with another, similarly named, organisation amid claims it is has been excluded from funding.
The society split in 1986.
CEnE-EPS remained in the Western Isles, while a new group, also called the Eriskay Pony Society (EPS) but without the Gaelic part of the name, set up on the mainland.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but I am confident that we are on a positive trajectory.”
CEnE-EPS secretary Sandra MacInnes
EPS initially became a daughter society to CEnE-EPS for the breed.
But in 2016 the Scottish Government established EPS as a mother society along with CEnE-EPS.
Last year CEnE-EPS challenged the award of £15,000 granted to EPS over two years.
The money came from funds paid by the Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB).
Society ‘missed out’ on support
Last year in a letter to the Rare Breed Survival Trust, CEnE-EPS claimed it had missed out on “transformative” support due to “underhanded organisational bias”.
It is continuing to fight its case.
Liam Crouse, a CEnE-EPS committee member, said: “A considerable challenge for the society has been its unofficial proscription from public financial support for the maintenance of rare British breeds.
“The existence of two mother societies for the same equine breed is unique, and not without its disadvantages.
“But it has also resulted in our ostracisation from public support.”
“This has meant that of the £15,000 granted over the last two years for Eriskay pony breeding, not a single penny has come to the founding society headquartered in the Isle of Eriskay.”
The trust says while it is sometimes asked to comment on levy board payments it does not direct how money is spent.
CEO Christopher Price said he does not recognise the account given by CEnE-EPS.
He said: “The Rare Breed Survival Trust is more than happy to work with any breed society which is serious about ensuring the conservation and preservation of its breed.”
Despite some encouraging noises, the dispute is still rumbling on.
A statement from the Eriskay Pony Society Council said: “Whilst there was a difference of opinion over the years about how things should be done, we have always accepted that the two societies had their own way of promoting and preserving the ponies and that each was worthwhile.
“For a number of years neither society could make an application for grant support to the levy board.
“This changed for us after we worked with the survival trust over a period of time and made a significant amount of information available to them and others.
“We do not know what CEnE has done in this respect. EPS would be happy to tell CEnE what we did to arrive where we are today.
“That would allow any differences in the way we interact with the relevant organisations to be clear and can be addressed.”
Island MP Angus MacNeil said: “Comann Each nan Eilean – The Eriskay Pony Society has done a lot to save the ponies which had been removed from crofts following the introduction of tractors etc.”
He said if it had not been for the society the ponies would be gone today.
He added: “The ponies are now very much a beautiful feature of the Eriskay landscape.”