Families enjoying walking and sledging at a South Tyneside beauty spot this winter are asked to be mindful of the Borough's equine friends.
During times of winter weather, Cleadon Hills is transformed into a picture perfect wonderland with its snow-capped trees and blanket white hills, making it a prime spot for winter activities.
However, the area is also home to Exmoor ponies, which have recently returned to Cleadon Hills for their third winter in a row to graze the land as part of South Tyneside Council's management of Cleadon Hills Local Nature Reserve.
With large numbers of visitors expected to enjoy the site over the winter, particularly following heavy snowfall, South Tyneside Council is reminding people to enjoy the ponies - Nifty, Berry, Bracken and Buttons - from a distance and to avoid providing them with additional food.
Councillor Moira Smith, Lead Member for Area Management and Community Safety, said: "We are delighted to see the return of the ponies. They have proven to be a huge hit with visitors during the winter months and have become a welcome addition to what is a stunning landscape at any time of the year.
"Recent blizzard-like conditions brought snowfall to Cleadon Hills for the first time since the ponies were introduced on the land in 2015 and we know that snowfall brings more visitors to the site.
"With that in mind we would like to remind people visiting this winter that it is important that they adhere to the signage in place and do not feed the ponies. Feeding them will not only detract them from doing their job of eating the vegetation but cause them to approach people for food and become a nuisance.
"Cleadon Hills is a beautiful place with room for everyone, ponies and people alike. The ponies can still be enjoyed as they graze the land, but preferably from a distance."
The ponies returned to Cleadon Hills last month and will remain on the site until Easter 2018, before returning again for next year's winter season.
Councillor Smith added: "We would like to reassure people that the ponies get plenty of food from the land, even when it is covered in snow. The ponies are a hardy native breed with thick winter coats and are equipped to break through snow for food so that no supplementary feeding is necessary. As they can tackle a wide range of vegetation and conditions, they are the ideal breed for conservation grazing."
Cleadon Hills Local Nature Reserve is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), which needs to be protected. Exmoor ponies were introduced on the site as part of a conservation grazing scheme to help preserve and protect the species-rich grassland for future generations to enjoy.
Using a small number of livestock to graze land is considered a more effective site management option than cutting grass alone because it produces a more diverse environmental result that has greater benefits for invertebrates, ground nesting birds and floral diversity. The land was historically grazed by animals - a process that has been proven to enable flowers to flourish.
For further information about Cleadon Hills Local Nature Reserve visit South Tyneside Council's website at www.southtyneside.gov.uk