Appeal urges people to ‘keep your distance’ from New Forest poniesPUBLISHED ON: 10 JULY 2018
A new campaign is calling on visitors and residents to keep their distance from the area’s free-roaming animals.
The animals’ owners and local organisations have come together to issue the call due to concerns that people are putting themselves at risk by approaching the animals.
Head Agister Jonathan Gerrelli and his team of Agisters are responsible for overseeing all of the animals owned by people called commoners. Jonathan said: ‘Most New Forest ponies and donkeys are even-tempered animals and often come close to visitors, but they are not used to being handled and should be left alone. They can react very suddenly if they feel threatened, so give them space.
‘The animals may look friendly but can bite or kick, especially when they have young with them, so please keep your distance! Sadly some people – usually children – are hurt each year.’
To tackle the issue, New Forest commoners and local organisations are launching a ‘keep your distance’ campaign to make people aware they should not approach the animals.
Treating the animals as tame encourages them to pester people and hang around busy roads and car parks putting them at risk of road accidents. There is no need to feed the New Forest ponies as they are well adapted to thrive all year round in the wild.
The grazing of ponies, donkeys and cattle throughout the open areas of the New Forest maintains the unique habitats that make the area internationally important for nature conservation.
Chair of the New Forest Commoners’ group, Tony Hockley, said: ‘These grazing animals are vital to everything we all love about the Forest. We believe that people wouldn’t get too close or disturb them if they understand this, and the risks to themselves and the animals. The Forest provides all the food they need, and feeding them just draws them to people, car parks and roads, putting them at great risk. It also changes their grazing habits that keep them healthy all year round.’
Forestry Commission Community Manager Zoe Cox said: ‘New Forest Rangers are helping people to have a better understanding and awareness of how to behave around ponies to reduce the number of injuries. It’s a serious issue and we are trying to spread the message that people must keep their distance from animals, both for their own safety and that of the animals’.
The campaign will be backed with a suite of materials to clearly inform people about not feeding or petting animals, including posters displayed in popular Forestry Commission car parks.
Representatives from the Commoners Defence Association, Verderers, Forestry Commission, New Forest National Park Authority, Go New Forest and tourism businesses attended the launch. The National Trust are also supporting the campaign, with all partners helping to raise awareness among visitors before they arrive in the New Forest while out and about in the National Park, and via social media.