Public urged to help save famous stud

BROADCASTER and farmer Paul Heiney yesterday urged the public to dig deep and contribute to a multi-million pound appeal to safeguard the future of a famous Suffolk stud.

By Richard Smith

BROADCASTER and farmer Paul Heiney yesterday urged the public to dig deep and contribute to a multi-million pound appeal to safeguard the future of a famous Suffolk stud.

Mr Heiney launched the appeal at the Suffolk Showground in Ipswich where he warned that it would be a tragedy if the Suffolk Punch horse disappeared from its native landscape, taking with it an enormous pool of horse-breeding skills and experience.

The Suffolk Punch Trust wants to buy and transform the existing stud on Prison Service land at Hollesley, near Woodbridge, into a visitor centre with lecture theatre and classrooms.

It would also feature research facilities; working areas for animals, stables and paddocks; a covered exhibition ring; rural craft workshops; a shop and restaurant, and provide horse and cart rides on environmental trails and sensitive habitat areas.

Mr Heiney said: “This is too good a chance to miss. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

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“It will become a huge asset to the breed and to breeders. This alone will not save the Suffolk Punch - but the breed will be a great deal less safe without it.''

The appeal will also preserve breeds indigenous to Suffolk - Suffolk Sheep, Red Poll Cattle and Large Black Pigs - give work to prisoners, and highlight the county's agricultural, natural and historical heritage.

The cost of the project is estimated at £3,697,000. The trust hopes that a Heritage Lottery Fund grant will provide £2,773,073 - 75% of the total.

The capital costs include £450,000 to buy 180 acres of land and the stud buildings, £100,000 for horses and equipment and £225,643 to refurbish the stable block.

A further £840,000 is needed for the visitor centre, £230,000 for craft workshops, £189,000 on the display arena and £223,098 for car parking and the new access road.

The trust, a registered charity formed to secure the long-term future of the stud, has a deadline of next September to commit to taking over the existing stud and animals.

Princess Anne said in a letter received yesterday: ''As patron of both the Suffolk Horse Society and the Butler Trust, I send my best wishes to the Suffolk Punch Trust on the launch of its fund raising appeal to create a centre at Hollesley Bay on the Suffolk coast.

''This centre will ensure the survival of this stud of Suffolk horses, provide education facilities for children and adults, and assist in the rehabilitation of inmates at the prison at Hollesley Bay.

''This important project, which embraces such a wide range of activities, deserves our support.

“I wish the trust every success as it launches this important appeal.''

Mr Heiney warned that there was an urgent need to raise £3.6million within 12 months to continue the work of the Hollesley Stud.

He said: “It has played a vital role in the breeding of the Suffolk Punch - the native carthorse of the eastern counties and which, for many of us, is the greatest horse that ever walked the earth.

“Despite a huge upsurge in interest, numbers of Suffolk Horses are small, and can only be increased by the breeding of more foals.

“This is not always easy; it is invariably expensive, and has an uncertain outcome.

“It's not like breeding pups from dogs; it needs specialist knowledge and skills, all of which have been in practice at Hollesley Bay for many years. It would be a tragedy if they were lost.

“It is not the only place where horses are bred. There are many dedicated, individual breeders who are owners of mares and stallions who are members of the Suffolk Horse Society.

“The stud is there to help them as a facility where owners of mares can reliably send their horses to be covered, from where advice can be given, and future stallions bred to maintain the all-important diversity of bloodlines.

“We want to take the stud forward and present its work to a wider public who know little of the Suffolk Horse.

“There will be horses on public display, a lecture theatre, rural crafts such as the farrier and the harness maker.

“Already 500 children a year from inner city areas are given a breath of fresh air during visits arranged through the Prison Service where they are shown the stud and its horses, and taken for wagon rides down to the coast.

“We can build considerably on that number, as well as expanding into adult education.”