Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Calls for fines for feeding New Forest ponies

New Forest Ponies Image copyright Prisma by Dukas/Getty Images
Image caption There are concerns New Forest ponies are being harmed by being fed by members of the public

Visitors to the New Forest who feed the ponies and other livestock should be fined, campaigners have said.

Commoners who own free-roaming livestock have called for measures, including spot fines, to prevent harm to the animals.

Concerns have also been raised about the risk of people being injured.

The National Park Authority (NPA) has launched a publicity campaign and said it would consider the "potential for enforcement".

Feeding livestock is banned under New Forest by-laws but fines have not been issued.

Image caption The National Park Authority has placed warning signs at car parks

Tony Hockley, of the Commoners Defence Association, said feeding was usually "well intentioned" but could harm the animals and encouraged them to hang around car parks and pester picnickers.

"People are increasingly unaware of how to behave around livestock - the Countryside Code seems to mean nothing," he said.

Earlier this year commoner Kathleen Clark told the Court of Verderers she had removed a pony from the forest after it "learnt bad behaviour".

"It is increasingly difficult to run stock on the forest - the public need to know that by feeding and petting the animals, they are destroying the environment they come to enjoy".

In its submission to the government's independent Landscapes Review, the association called for a well-funded ranger service to educate the public and impose spot fines if needed.

Deputy leader of New Forest District Council Edward Heron said there was concern about "real conflict" between livestock and people during the summer.

"There is a great frustration with people who don't know the rules - we are seeing serious incidents involving people and it's changing animals' behaviours."

The NPA has launched a "Keep your Distance" campaign targeting summer visitors.

Nigel Matthews, head of recreation management and learning, said: "We are looking to increase printed materials such as signs and leaflets, face-to-face work by rangers and other staff and online information including social media.

"The potential for enforcement will also be considered," he added.

New Forest Ponies

  • Legend says the ponies are descendants of animals which swam ashore from Spanish Armada shipwrecks, but in reality there have been horses in the region for the past 2,000 years
  • There are currently about 5,000 roaming freely - they are not wild, but owned by commoners who have ancient rights to graze their animals on the open forest
  • The ponies are overseen by agisters and are rounded up in the annual drifts for checks on heath and wellbeing
  • Their grazing helps maintain the ecosystem of the forest, which supports other species including the Dartford warbler and the southern damselfly
  • Thirty-eight ponies were killed on roads in the New Forest in 2018.

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