A meeting was held on the 15th June 2002 organised by the PEP Group with other Exmoor Pony Activists to discuss recent decisions, difficulties, and problems of the Exmoor Pony Society. Present were EPS Members, representatives of Exmoor Ponies in Conservation, the Yorkshire Exmoor Pony Trust, and the Pony Trekking Section of the Royal (Dick) Veterinary College, a Geneticist, and a Veterinary Surgeon. Apologies for absence came from the Moorland Mousie Trust and several other EPS members. The following References are relevant to the Minutes of the Meeting: -
The Meeting was convened to discuss recent decisions, difficulties, and problems of the Exmoor Pony Society.
Mr. Peter Dean was appointed chairman and Mrs. Margaret Mackintosh appointed minute secretary.
"That the meeting does not represent a faction against the EPS and has no intention of destroying or splitting that Society." was agreed. The aim of the meeting is to make positive suggestions and address issues, in a way that will benefit both the ponies and the members. The meeting agreed with the view of Prof. J. Woolliams of the Roslin Institute that 'the EPS, run efficiently, has the potential to become a model breed society'. It was agreed that we must reject the perceived current opinion that the EPS simply follows the practices of other similar organisations.
The meeting briefly discussed the content of the agenda and gave general approval to the content
The group expressed concern about the situation where the Secretary and Treasurer are from the same household. It was suggested that this could leave both the Society and the individuals concerned vulnerable should things ever go wrong. All agreed that in general terms this was not sound practice. The involvement of the same household in a consortium breeding and trading in Exmoor ponies is also significant.
The meeting agreed that no one should benefit their personal business interests, pony breeding or otherwise, from information which they acquire as a result of their position as an elected committee member or office bearer. Apart from being in conflict with the principles of the Society, such occurrence would directly contravene Charity Commission directives.
The group discussed the election of the 2002 committee, where all ballot papers were returned to the secretary. Rule 36.6 of the society, was referred to. All agreed that to ensure a fair process and safeguard everyone concerned, the use of an independent Scrutineer should be re-introduced and rule 36 strictly adhered to.
[Post Meeting Note. It is believed that the Committee is discussing this matter and it is hoped that a return to impeccable practice will be a feature of the election of 2003.]
The meeting agreed that the Society needs to open up the decision making process of the Committee so that all EPS members are fully aware of the issues both discussed and to be discussed. All Committee minutes and agenda should be available to all members, both (as was once the Society practice) through Area Representatives and on line. All information directly relevant to pony breeding; in particular the details of foal failures should by available by request by anyone who needed it.
The meeting hoped that all computer information belonging to the Society was 'backed up' on another machine housed in another location and regularly updated.
Any form of censorship, or the purposeful withholding of information was considered to be a serious threat to the interests of the members of the Society. In particular the recent offer to the Committee to attempt to suppress of letters written to the press by animal welfare groups was condemned.
The Data Protection Act covers only information about humans, not animals and should not be used to restrict breeding information to members. The manner in which the EPS is using the Act, to keep information from members, would render any studbook or herdbook worthless. As long as members were fully informed as to what their details would be used for i.e. purely within the Society, there would be no breach of the Act. Should the Committee still feel restricted by the Act, it was suggested that in the next circulation to members a box be provided for the member to cross should they wish their Address and Post Code to be withheld from members of the Society or being printed annually with the EPS News Letter.
All new members should be given a list of EPS members in their area at the time of joining the Society.
The venue and timing of AGM was discussed. At present elderly/disabled members, those unable to travel long distances or members who are working were being discriminated against by the inaccessibility of the AGM. General Meetings are always held on Exmoor. Since people living in other parts of Britain breed about 64% of Exmoor foals, all agreed that the AGM location needs to be more 'member friendly'. It is also very difficult for members from Southern England, let alone members from Scotland, to attend on a Wednesday morning. Work often makes such a day impossible A postal vote would mean facilitation and participation in decision making for all.
It has already been indicated to the Committee of the EPS that "Large financial and other institutions dealing with matters of huge significance regularly consult on the basis of postal and proxy voting." It was generally agreed, although Mr. Peter Dean was undecided, that in a 'healthy' committee situation, flexible venue etc, postal voting might not be necessary, but postal votes mean that members situated more remotely would be able to participate in society decision making.
The meeting agreed that the way, in which this rule is interpreted in practice, needs clarification. All foals should be presented for inspection, regardless of their ultimate use or outcome. This is to ensure accurate and full breed records. The only exception to this being if there is an obvious glaring reason why the foal would not pass and the owner is willing to have it recorded as a failure without wasting the inspectors time travelling to see it.
A copy of the pass/fail certificate should be made available for the owner's records. At present if a foal fails inspection, an agent acting for the breeder has nothing to show the breeder.
The meeting considered the present role of Area Reps. Welcoming new members to the Society and communicating with members within their area was thought to be a priority. In some instances, however, the communication aspect was not sufficiently encouraged and was left to members to make the effort. The job of being "two way couriers" of information about the needs and opinions of members in their locality from and especially to the Committee was thought to be their key function. The meeting felt that Area Reps should be able to receive some funding to cover their communication expense costs.
Area Reps should on no account appear to be unelected members of the Committee. The practice of restricting them to speak only on matters of special concern to their area and not on national policy should be reinforced.
Improving the present system for the issuing foal passports should be a priority. Passports are presently issued very late and do not include important information such as the microchip number even when the Inspector and Breeder have given this on the inspection form. The importance of the document being an official identification document should be brought to breeder's attention. This is important so that in future, should doubtful interpretation of acquired marks occur, the definitive sketch would have enough information to define a pony's identity.
At the last foal inspections the EPS registered two animals whose dams could not be identified as individuals. The stallion's registration is given in full but the dams of both foals are only identified by the herd number. This matter was the subject advice from Professor John Woolliams of the Roslin institute. (Ref. 1.) The studbook was closed to such entries from the "wild" in 1962. Some 80 years of careful recording are being negated at a stroke, and dangerous precedents are being created.
[Post Meeting Note. The Committee is discussing this matter and hopefully will reach a solution that will preserve the value of the Studbook.]
The group acknowledged the professional expertise which was available to the EPS, from amongst its members, in relation to the specialist field of genetics. The method of DNA analysis proposed by the EPS is unclear and confused. The term DNA fingerprinting has been used and confused with genotyping using microsatellite markers. DNA fingerprinting requires a larger quantity of DNA than is available with a hair sample. DNA analysis using microsatellite markers is the standard method when using hair samples. There are a number of major considerations before using microsatellite markers. It is unclear if the EPS has taken account of these (Ref. 2.): -
When using microsatellite markers for parentage analysis the result can only give a definite NO, and only gives a probability of the parentage being correct. The number of markers used is critical to the accuracy of the results. The accuracy also depends on how informative these markers are on the breed concerned. When eleven markers, optimised for thoroughbreds, were used in four closely related breeds the accuracy varied between 96% and 99%. The use of thoroughbred markers on Exmoor ponies has not been validated but is estimated that the accuracy could be less than 90%. Since the studbook in its present form is approximately 98% accurate there seems little point in wasting such a large amount of society funds on a method which will not increase the information available, and will not directly benefit the Exmoor breed. The large input of EPS funds for the project would be wasted. Other ways of improving studbook reliability and effectiveness could be achieved far more cheaply; i.e. correct identification by microchip and improving the recording system so that full breeding information is available to all. Research should be supported into problems associated with Native Ponies. All agreed that only correctly supervised and professionally approved scientific research should be funded. The group concurred that the present DNA project was in urgent need of review, and that the opinions of those qualified in this field should be seriously taken into consideration.
The meeting was in full agreement that it was now important for the EPS to accommodate the opinions of many of its members as well as the recommendations of national animal welfare organisations and move towards a flexible system of pony identification. All concurred that discussions need to begin as soon as possible on the best way forwards to facilitate a choice between micro chipping and branding. By such a choice a simple humane and accurate identification system for can be offered to breeders.
[Post Meeting Note. The Committee is presently looking at a detailed scheme offered by Mr. Peter Dean.]
It was felt that these issues needed more time on another occasion for discussion, but the EPS should encourage and help fund research, which would benefit not only Exmoor Ponies but also other native pony populations.
The meeting endorsed the following:
In order for the organisation to be approved or recognised, it must:
Annex 2. Satisfy the competent authorities that it:
(e) can provide the data necessary to carry out an improvement, selection, or preservation programme;
and Annex 3. have established principals:
(a) the system for providing data whereby equidae can be evaluated for the purpose of improvement, selection and breed preservation;
(b) in the case of an organisation or association which maintains a studbook of the origin of the breed: - the definition of its basic objectives of selection.
and Annex 4 have rules of procedure which provide, in particular, for non-discriminatory treatment of breeders.
The EPS appears to be run in such a way that none of these principals are fully satisfied. It is operated so secretively that information is not even available on who are other members. There is an absolute refusal to provide data on the failures at foal inspections.
The EPS should be run not only as a National Organisation but also as an International organisation.
These minutes have been seen and agreed as a correct interpretation of the business of the meeting by: - Mr. Peter Dean. - Chairman of the Meeting, Mr Alex Copland, Miss Alison Downing, Mrs Margaret Mackintosh and Mrs Ann Poulson.
These minutes were sent to all committee members of the Exmoor Pony Society, the result was a second meeting held with representatives of the Exmoor Pony Society on the 3rd November 2002. Dr. Iain Gill of Liverpool University chaired this meeting. The following is the Minute agreed by Dr. Gill: -The words in bold text are additional insertions made at the request of the Exmoor Pony Society after Dr. Gill's draft was agreed with the others at the meeting.
The meeting although open and frank was generally co-operative and friendly. There was a genuine agreement that progress should be made. It was noted that the group could make only suggestions to the Society and that decisions could not be made by the representatives of the EPS Committee attending.
It was agreed that :
It is recommended to the Committee and Society that:
It was suggested that the Society should have such data analysed regularly by a professional geneticist to minimise the possibility of drawing of wrong conclusions, as very many abnormalities are not genetic.
(A decision to not publish data relating to failures was taken at an AGM and would have to be altered at another)
The view was expressed that no voting can take place on such AOB, as the topics will not have been notified to all members of the society prior to the AGM.
Additional Information (From notes taken during the meeting.)
The insertions made to Dr. Gill's original draft should not negate the fact that at the time of the meeting such matters were fully discussed and agreed by those present at the meeting.
Item 3 The meeting agreed that communication was of vital importance and that the Society should always remember that animals belong to the individual members and not to the Society. The EPS website should be used to immediately notify changes of rules and to put a report of the AGM on the website as soon as possible after the AGM with details of everything that is discussed.
Item 5 It was agreed that in line with other charities and societies, all voting papers for council members should go directly to an independent Scrutineer, possibly the one used by the National Pony Society.
Item 6 It was agreed that every effort should be made to record ALL failures for inspectors. These to be collated so that any changes in frequency are apparent. All breeders to be asked to allow failures to be published. Purpose of information - to allow Society to seek professional advice if patterns of failures emerge.
Item 7 The committee of the EPS seems to have been misinformed about the appointment of area representatives. The treasurer stated that area members are informed and consulted when there is a change of area reps. this has certainly not been the case in Scotland. A change in area rep. has recently occurred in Scotland. The chairman of the EPS seemed to be under the impression that nobody other than the current rep. was willing to do the job.
No EPS member from central or southern Scotland was informed or consulted, let alone, asked if they wished to volunteer for the post.
Item 8 The system of voting at General Meetings was discussed, particularly the importance of postal voting since it would give ALL society members, not only those living locally on Exmoor, the democratic right to vote.
The EPS chairman agreed that the committee would discuss this
Item 11 It was pointed out that the EPS, as an international breed society must conform with European Union Directives. This requires that it must have a system to provide data to breeders "necessary to carry out an improvement, selection, or preservation programme".
The EPS chairman agreed that this would be discussed by the committee.
Item 12 It was agreed that the involvement in DNA investigation by the EPS must be done carefully and under advice of qualified geneticists. It was pointed out that there was confusion by the committee between the accuracy of DNA finger-printing with the technique of micro-satellite marking, which confirms only negatives. The provision of a large part of the EPS budget for such work needs to be re-examined. Perhaps some of the funding being directed at more practical uses such as micro-chipping and promotion of the ponies.
The EPS chairman agreed that this would be discussed by the committee
The main constraint to the Meeting was lack of sufficient time to discuss the latter items on the agenda more fully.
This Newsletter is, because of its content, rather long and to many members perhaps repetitive and boring, but the PEP Group maintains that ALL members of the Exmoor Pony Society should have the minutes of these two meetings available to them in FULL. This to allow members to judge more rationally on the agreed and published information rather than on poorly reported and ill informed speculation, rumour and gossip that frequently arises from certain members of the Society.
We hope to have another PEP Newsletter published after the EPS Newsletter and before the AGM of the EPS.
The PEP Group may be contacted in writing through: -
22C, Main Street
Midlothian EH25 9PS
Or by e-mail to A. Downing