A new hope for the Suffolk Punch

A NEW appeal to raise £1million to safeguard the rare Suffolk Punch horse is launched today with the backing of the East Anglian Daily Times.

Richard Smith

A NEW appeal to raise £1million to safeguard the rare Suffolk Punch horse is launched today with the backing of the East Anglian Daily Times.

The Suffolk Punch Trust admits that the refusal by the Heritage Lottery Fund to give a £1m grant towards the redevelopment of the stud at Hollesley, near Woodbridge, is a “bitter blow”.

But today the Trust, encouraged by nearly 1,000 people who have signed up to become Friends of the Trust, says it is confident the money will be raised to keep the stud and the heavy horse going.

A new access to the site, parking, a visitor building, the refurbishment of existing stable areas and new landscaping will cost about £1m.

The Trust will make applications to grant-giving bodies and it is hoping up to £50,000 can be raised through an appeal in the EADT.

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Broadcaster and farmer Paul Heiney launched an appeal in November 2004 in the run-up to the first refusal by the Heritage Lottery Fund to give money. The fund has again refused a request.

Mr Heiney said: “It would be a tragedy if the Suffolk Punch horse were to vanish from its native landscape.

“We can all help to prevent this from happening. There is an enormous pool of horse breeding skill and experience at the Colony Stud and to allow it to disappear would be a tragic waste. Future generations would not forgive us.

“For the sake of the Suffolk Punch horse and all that it stands for, I hope you will support this worthy cause.”

In 1966 only 12 foals were born and by 1972 there were only 14 foals in a year. But in 1993 a total of 45 foals were born and last year 36 foals were born.

In April this year there were 440 Suffolks of which 123 were geldings, leaving a breeding population of 317 of which there are only 25 registered licensed stallions.

John Marsh, project manager, said the stud's long term future would be under threat if there was no visitor centre to generate income.

Mr Marsh said: “The refusal by Heritage Lottery to provide funding towards constructing a visitor facility which includes areas for formal education and static heritage displays is a bitter blow.

“Nevertheless, the trustees and the volunteers who work tirelessly in support of this project are determined to raise the required funds elsewhere.

“Income from visitors will fund the education and work skills programmes and meet some of the costs of keeping around 30 Suffolk Punch horses. This appeal to the public for support is one of a number of ways the Trust can raise the money required for a project which can bring lasting commercial benefits to the region, and education and work skills programmes for the vulnerable and socially deprived groups, as well as life-long learning opportunities for all those who come to the stud.”

He said the public responded generously when the Trust had to raise £700,000 to buy 180 acres of land, buildings and horses from the Prison Service by March 31, 2006. They saved the stud from being dispersed and the horses were able to stay where they had graced the landscape for 250 years.

Philip Ryder-Davies, chairman of the Trust, said: “Now we need your help again to ensure their long term future is secured and the animals and this unique landscape can also be used to deliver education and work skills to others, especially those less fortunate than ourselves.

“We can make a major contribution to peoples' enjoyment, their understanding of the world we live in and keep the stud as part of our national heritage.”

Since the Trust bought the stud in 2006 there have been more socially excluded, vulnerable or deprived groups visiting the horses. Prisoners from Hollesley Bay open jail work daily at the stud, working parties are supplied by the Probation Service from people doing community service. More than 1,000 young children from socially deprived inner city schools visit for a “countryside experience day” annually.

Mr Marsh said the Trust had two main projects. The first was to secure the long term future of the stud and the second was “to use the animals, the landscape and the heritage of this area as the base canvas on which to deliver a wide range of educational and work skills programmes.”

He added: “The current stage is crucial to the whole project for, without visitor income, the stud is not financially secure in the medium to longer term.

“Current stud operating costs, even though we only have two paid stud grooms and everybody else is a volunteer, is in the region of £100,000 annually.”

Once a visitor centre has been built the Trust can then raise money for two further phases. These include building a complex of rural craft workshops, an open air exhibition and display arena, and landscaping a shallow valley for a 15-acre garden with shrubs, trees and plants of historical significance to the county.

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