Spanning 368 square miles, Dartmoor is the largest open space in southern England.
The region's moors are partitioned into separate lots, called “commons,” on which local farmers have the right (entitlements) to put their livestock out to pasture. T
Dartmoor has been a pasturage for more than 4,000 years and its unique way of farming led to the region being granted National Park status.
Three breeds of livestock are indigenous to the region: the white-face sheep, the grey-face sheep and the Dartmoor pony. All three varieties are well accustomed to the region’s highland climate, and their eating habits fulfill an essential role in the land's conservation.
The biggest threat to these animals has been the ever rising tide of road accidents involving the animals and, often, speeding motorists.
Following the severe winter of 1962-63, the Dartmoor Livestock Protection Society (DLPS) was established, and “helps ponies, sheep and cattle in danger or distress on Dartmoor” (see: www.dlps.org.uk). The Dartmoor authorities, actively campaigning to raise standards of animal care, have recently installed 40mph speed signs as a deterrence, but despite those measures, about 60 animals have died on the Devon moor’s roads this year.
To put a halt to the death toll on local livestock, the Dartmoor ponies will be coated with reflective paint to make them glow and, thus, more visible to drivers.
Karla McKechnie, a livestock protection officer for DLPS, stated to The Guardian that her protection society brought a Scandinavian concept to a south-western manufacturer which developed a dye that glows brightly in the dark when a vehicle’s headlights point at it. The preliminary tests on a pair of ponies proved to be effective, so the scheme is set to be implemented on a large scale across the moorlands in the coming months.
The main challenge comes from assessing the perfect time to apply the paint, considering how ponies and cattle shed their “skin,” and sheep (obviously) become woolly.
Let’s hope that the latest remedy is going to enable, once and for all, Dartmoor’s ponies, sheep and other animals to graze safely and peacefully, across the great moors of south-west England for thousands years to come.
The Scandinavians had at first attempted to save animals and drivers during their extremely long dark seasons by applying yellow collars, or small antler tags, to approximately 2,000 reindeer. In 2014, Santa's favorite four-legged friends were sprayed with reflective coating by the Finnish Reindeer Herders' Association.
In North America, a more technologically sophisticated project by the Conservation Research Center of Teton Science Schools (Wyoming) in 2013 engineered a pattern of infrared flashes set off every time a car passed, and which dissuaded the deer from crossing.
Higher impact projects have been implemented in places like Canada’s Banff National Park and the highways of the Netherlands, where wildlife overpasses offer road crossings to deer and other animals above the motorized traffic.
Between glow paint, GPS tracking, drone-herding and other initiatives being instituted to help our herds stay safe on the roads, there's really only that pesky problem of people speeding that still needs to be addressed fully. Perhaps auto-piloted vehicles will be the change our cattle wish to see in the world.