Future looks brighter for Suffolk Punch

THE long-term future of the world-famous Suffolk Punch horse is more secure today after a campaign supported by the EADT was successful in buying the important Hollesley Bay stud from the Prison Service.

By Richard Smith

THE long-term future of the world-famous Suffolk Punch horse is more secure today after a campaign supported by the EADT was successful in buying the important Hollesley Bay stud from the Prison Service.

The Suffolk Punch Trust announced yesterday it had raised the £580,000 required to buy 180 acres of land, the existing stud buildings, 25 horses and their equipment at Hollesley, near Woodbridge.

It had to raise the money by the end of March or it would have lost the opportunity to complete the deal with the Prison Service - and then the future of the heavy horses would have been in serious doubt.

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The stud's future was thrown into jeopardy when the Prison Service, which had run it for more than 60 years, said it was no longer part of its “core business” and that it may close.

The stud is seen as crucial to the future of the Suffolk Punch. In 2001, a report predicted the breed could become extinct within 15 years if it was not safeguarded.

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But the Suffolk Punch Trust is now in a position to officially unveil the stud at the end of March and start work on a phased redevelopment of the stables and land. Princess Anne, patron of the Suffolk Horse Society, has donated thousands of pounds.

John Marsh, project manager, said: ''We had a phenomenal response from the public. The Friends of the Suffolk Punch Trust was launched in November and we have almost reached 500 friends, that is incredible.

''The public appeal generated £18,000 in donations, mainly from little donations which was heart warming but the really wealthy people in Suffolk have not come out of the woodwork. We have made overtures to some of them direct and I can sympathise with them because they probably get thousands of requests, but it is disappointing.

''However, we are extremely positive with what has been achieved. From April 1 we will be operating the stud as a stud and the head groom Bruce Smith will continue to be paid by the Prison Service and work at the stud.''

Mr Marsh added: ''The first phase was to buy the stud, the second phase is to raise £1.2m and this is a very exciting phase where we need to get the general public on the site.

''We will continue to organise parties for children and adult organisations but for the public we have to do some major building work. This includes a new access road, car and coach parking, the shell of the visitor building, toilets, bookshop and café, but not the educational bits.

''Then we have to refurbish the existing stable blocks so that they conform with health and safety, child protection and the other security issues that affect the public on the site. There are also paths to be laid, lighting installed and so on.

''We are in constructive dialogue with the Heritage Lottery and we have a meeting in early April. There are issues with the East of England Development Agency to be discussed and we will go back to the Rural Enterprise Scheme in Cambridge. The big lottery could also be interested. Phase three is more about education and heritage and getting the rural craft workshops.''

The final donation to the first phase of fundraising came with a £25,000 grant from Viridor Credits, a landfill tax credit scheme, triggered by a £2,000-plus donation from the Rotary Club of Woodbridge Deben.

Philip Ryder-Davies, trust chairman, said: ''Cash contributions from local people and charitable organisations like Rotary have been fantastic. This latest grant is the final sum we need to buy the Suffolk Stud at Hollesley and the trust is very grateful.''

Rotary president Peter Kidd said: ''The Suffolk Punches from Hollesley Bay have helped us with our fundraising over the past ten years and we are now pleased to be able to help them secure the future of these wonderful horses in Suffolk.''

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