Fresh hope to save rare breed

ExclusiveBy Danielle NuttallA NEW £4million tourist attraction is to be built as part of plans to safeguard the long-term future of the rare Suffolk Punch horse.


By Danielle Nuttall

A NEW £4million tourist attraction is to be built as part of plans to safeguard the long-term future of the rare Suffolk Punch horse.

The Suffolk Punch Trust Ltd, which was set up 18 months ago to secure the future of the stud farm at Hollesley Bay Prison, near Woodbridge, has just been awarded charity status.

The move means it can now move a step closer towards taking over responsibility of the stud from the Home Office and setting up a permanent visitor centre.

It hopes the centre will attract up to 30,000 visitors a year and help to ensure the world-famous horse remains at the site.

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The new tourist attraction will be built on 198 acres of land, sold or leased to the trust by the Home Office, and could be open by 2006.

With features such as horse and cart rides, a heritage centre and retail facilities, the new attraction will generate enough income to cover the upkeep of the horses and expand the present breeding programme.

It will also continue to provide prisoners at Hollesley Bay with rehabilitation benefits, including on-site work in horse handling, and act as an education centre for school pupils.

The Home Office has agreed to sell the current 20-strong horse stud and equipment to the trust for just £15,000 and will relinquish its responsibility from September next year.

However, the trust will be allowed a further two years to raise funds through the Heritage Lottery and other organisations to build the tourist attraction.

John Marsh, financial adviser and secretary of the trust and chairman of environmental body WREN, which has already pledged £80,000 to the project, said he was delighted with the progress that had been made.

“This project touches every conceivable charitable objective. It deals with saving a rare breed, social exclusion and the local economy,” he added.

“It builds bridges and understanding between town and country. There is not another project that can do all this. It will take the risk and worry about what's going to happen to them away completely.”

Mr Marsh continued: “Without charitable status we could not have gone anywhere. It opens the door to raise funds, obtaining planning consent, building a visitor centre and achieving the aspirations that the trust has set itself.

“The next major hurdle is to maintain planning consent and also new stables which will allow the public closer access to the horses and a heritage and education centre which will enable us to deliver the education aims that we have set ourselves.”

The East Anglian Daily Times launched the Save the Suffolk Punch campaign two years ago after it was revealed the Hollesley stud - one of the most successful breeding sites for the horses - was in danger of being split up after the Prison Service announced it could not keep them there in the long-term.

Thousands of people from all over the world contacted the EADT to offer their backing to help safeguard the stud's future.

Mr Marsh said the Home Office had “bent over backwards” to help the trust to take over the running and ownership of the facility to ensure its survival.

“They have been extremely supportive and have not put any pressure on us at all,” he added.

“In the initial stages, they will lease 60 acres of land at Hollesley and then ultimately allow us to take over on lease or purchasing arrangement 198 acres of land.

“There are 270 Suffolk Punches worldwide, so it's rarer than the giant Panda and the Siberian tiger. The horses have been at the prison for 100 years.”

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