Breeders and local farmers are up in arms at the decision to remove HM The King's iconic Highland cattle fold and pony study at Balmoral in Royal Deeside, in a change of estate policy.

Just 14 months after HM The Queen passed away, her beloved Highland ponies and the breeding programme they were on to safeguard them from becoming a rare breed, are to be moved south of the Border to Hampton Court Palace, near London.

Originally, the breeding programme was brought to Scotland because HM wanted to breed real Highland ponies with a good temperament that could be used to carry deer off the hills.

The Scottish Farmer: Dochy and Sylvia Ormiston pictured with three of the Balmoral Highland ponies in 2012Dochy and Sylvia Ormiston pictured with three of the Balmoral Highland ponies in 2012 (Image: Rob Haining / The Scottish Farmer)

In doing so, the late Queen appointed Sylvia Ormiston – immediate past president of the Highland Pony Society – as stud manager, and her husband, Dochy Ormiston, as stock manager to build up the Balmoral Highland cattle fold and attend to a Cheviot sheep flock.

Both appointments proved highly successful with the Ormistons breeding and bringing out numerous champion winners amongst the ponies and Highland cattle. The couple were also awarded Members of the Royal Victorian Order in 2020 and just last year were presented The Sir William Young Award at the Royal Highland Show.

It’s not known exactly how many jobs will be affected due to the change in policy, but it’s understood that staff are now being consulted.

There is also huge concern for the future of the Royal Estate if the ponies, cattle and sheep are to go which would be a serious loss of cultural and natural heritage when Highland ponies have been at Balmoral since Queen Victoria bought it in 1852.

Equally concerning are the ongoing discussions about the possibility of selling sections of it for peatland restoration/carbon capture, with other parts of Balmoral Estate being split up to provide new tenant starter farms.

"Most people are absolutely disgusted about what is happening," said one local farmer who wished to remain anonymous.

"We know there is change coming, but we never expected to see more Highland clearances in this area when the King has already voiced his concerns about food security but is apparently happy to sell off the cattle and the sheep."

He added: "We have already lost a lot of farms in this area to carbon capture and rewilding and what is that going to do for the countryside when cattle support up to a third of their weight in invertebrates? Even the RSPB has admitted that sheep are essential on the hills and uplands to support bird species, and has started putting sheep back on their ground."

The Scottish Farmer: Balmoral Highland cattle fold has been hugely successful in recent yearsBalmoral Highland cattle fold has been hugely successful in recent years (Image: Rob Haining / The Scottish Farmer)

Another local land owner was equally disgusted at the change in policy:

“Everyone is shocked and greatly saddened by this change which is being introduced," she said.

"Having spent 16 years of their lives devoted to restoring the numbers of rare breed Highland Ponies, and rearing award winning historic breeds of cattle, Dochy and Sylvia Ormiston will be devastated.

"Not only will they, and the other staff employed to care for these animals, lose their jobs, but they will also lose their tied homes as well. It will be very difficult for them to find alternative, affordable housing in the area, as there is a housing crisis in the Cairngorms National Park, whereby second homes and holiday rental properties have made it near impossible for people working in the area to be able to afford to rent or buy homes."

They added: "As more and more estates introduce land management changes, the traditional way of life in the Highlands is rapidly being eroded. The second Highland Clearances springs to mind!

In a statement, Buckingham Palace said: “Historically the Royal Highland Pony breeding programme has been based at Hampton Court Palace.

“Breeding will now be consolidated back to Hampton Court Palace, during this period of transition the Royal Household is in consultation with staff who will be affected by the change.”