Suffolk Punch appeal in pipeline

A £4MILLION appeal will be launched in the summer to safeguard the future of the rare Suffolk Punch horse and to create a new visitor centre showcasing the attractions of the animal.

By Richard Smith

A £4MILLION appeal will be launched in the summer to safeguard the future of the rare Suffolk Punch horse and to create a new visitor centre showcasing the attractions of the animal.

The ambitious plans could bring thousands of visitors to the Suffolk coastline and ensure the heavy horse, an icon of the county, lives on for many generations.

The Suffolk Punch Trust, a registered charity, has agreed to buy about 190 acres of land at Hollesley, near Woodbridge, currently owned by the Prison Service.

The Trust also plans to buy the existing stud buildings, the horses, all their equipment and some of the rights of access to local environmental trails.

The aim is to have an education and heritage centre, rural craft shops, a visitor centre with restaurant and toilets, stables and covered exhibition areas, working areas and paddocks for the horses and car parking.

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A substantial amount of money for the development may come from the Heritage Lottery fund, it is hoped.

The Trust hopes to secure the long term future of the breeding stud by expanding its work as a breeding centre of excellence, increasing horse numbers and allowing the public greater access to the horses – famous for their size, strength and reliability.

Extra jobs would be created, coupled with a boost for the tourist industry. Prisoners from Hollesley Bay open prison could work in handling the horses, learning about conservation, environment and rural craft skills.

Michael Wood, Hollesley Bay governor, said: ''I am pleased that the Trust is seeking to secure the long term future of these horses at Hollesley and that training and employment opportunities will be available for prisoners and will be linked to their resettlement needs.''

Classes of London children, many from ethnic minorities, and refugees living in over-crowded accommodation already visit the Hollesley Bay stud and the Suffolk Punch Trust wants to bring more children in.

The Suffolk Horse Society said: ''The educational advantage of the proposed new establishment should not be underestimated.

''The Suffolk Horse's direct links with the county of Suffolk, the environment, farming techniques, knowledge of heavy horse care and management as part of the county's living heritage is of prime importance.''

The East Anglian Daily Times launched the Save the Suffolk Punch campaign three years ago after it was revealed the Hollesley stud, a successful breeding site, was in danger of being split up after the Prison Service said it could not keep the horses there.

Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer has welcomed the proposed developments and he said: ''Only the retention of the stud at Hollesley can guarantee the future of the Suffolk Punch.''

The rare breed of heavy horse – only about 300 exist and the animal is rarer than the Giant Panda – has the longest written pedigree of any breed of livestock. It can be traced back to a stallion known as Crisp's Horse of Ufford, foaled in 1768.

The horse is part of the county's farming heritage and the Suffolk Punch Trust said the animal owed its survival to the dedication of many individual breeders, the work of the Suffolk Horse Society and the existence of the stud with its breeding expertise at the prison.

John Marsh, project manager, said: ''We felt that in anticipation of launching a public appeal in the next two to two-and-a-half months we needed to keep the public up to speed on what is going on.

''We have now launched the project properly by appointing architects to get planning permission and by appointing a project manager to get the project through to fruition.

''The Prison Service are extremely keen for us to take over responsibility for the horses in September. They are instructing lawyers and so are we to tidy up a lease purchase option to give us a security of site for 30 years which is what the Heritage Lottery want.''

The Trust is liasing with Suffolk Coastal over the preparation of a planning application and Hollins, Framlingham-based architects, will draw up the plans for a new stud and visitor facility.

The Trust is due to take over responsibility of the horses in September and the new visitor attraction could open to the public in the spring of 2007. The stud is home to about 20 Suffolk Punch horses.

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