Checks were continuing this week on the condition of ponies on Bodmin Moor after more than 20 died within a week.

Freezing conditions combined with neglect by unknown owners are being blamed for the deaths, which have affected animals in the Davidstow area of the moor, and there have been calls for new controls on the animals, which are allowed to graze freely on the 80 square miles of moorland.

Two of those which died are believed to have been foaling at the time and eight others had to be put down by Government vets because their condition was so bad.

But, as Julie Dowton of the Bodmin Moor Commoners Association explained, the inability of the authorities to trace the owners of the dead ponies has hampered investigations into the tragedy. She said that while ponies on Dartmoor and Exmoor are 'hot-branded' to enable their owners to be identified, no such arrangements exist on Bodmin Moor.

'There is no legislation to say that animals must be visibly marked, but the commoners' association is working with the moor management body and looking at all the options available – everyone agrees we have to do something,' said Mrs Dowton.

The Government, she added, is currently looking into banning hot-branding.

She said she and her fellow commoners were very grateful for the offers of accommodation for stricken ponies which had been coming in from across the country.

Further checks on the ponies' conditions were under way and any decision to remove further animals from the moor would be taken in the light of the findings.

Mrs Dowton also appealed to the public not to go on to the moor to feed the ponies.

'Their owners would prefer people not to feed them and it also encourages the ponies to hang around the roadsides, which can be dangerous,' she said.

Mrs Dowton stressed that most of the ponies on the moor were well cared for by their owners but there was evidence that many of those which have died or been put down in the past week had been dumped there by owners.

In February 2011, the Norfolk-based Redwings Horse Sanctuary took in 19 ponies rescued from the moor in need of urgent veterinary attention and some just days from death.