NEW FOREST organisations have come together to combat the danger of residents and visitors getting too close to the national park’s free-roaming livestock.
The Keep Your Distance campaign, launched by New Forest commoners in partnership with other local groups, will see rangers, staff and volunteers urge people not to approach animals such as ponies, cows and donkeys.
This includes articles in free publications (the New Forest Essential Guide, Park Life and Pocket Guide), leaflets given out to local shops, businesses and campsites, signs and information at Forest car parks and talks/public engagement sessions.
It comes after a series of reports of people being hurt by animals which are often fed and petted despite the warnings to keep clear.
There will also be a shared forest education toolkit with free resources and workshops that will be available for schools where more information can be found on www.realnewforest.org.
Head agister Jonathan Gerrelli and his team are responsible for overseeing the fauna owned by commoners.
“Most New Forest ponies and donkeys are even-tempered and often come close to visitors but they are not used to being handled and should be left alone,” he said.
“They can react very suddenly if they feel threatened and they need to be given space. They may look friendly but they can kick and bite especially when they have young with them.
“People should take particular care around ponies with foals or cattle with their calves, especially if they are out walking their dogs.”
Forestry England community manager Zoe Cox said: “Rangers are helping people to have a better understanding and awareness of how to behave around ponies and other animals grazing on the Forest.
“It’s a serious issue and we are trying to spread the message that people must please keep their distance from animals, both for their own safety and that of the animals.”
Katie Walding from the Commoners Defence Association added: “These grazing animals are vital to everything we all love about the Forest. We believe people won’t get too close or disturb them if they understand this, and the risks to themselves and to the animals.
“The Forest provides all the food the animals need, and feeding them just draws them to people, car parks and roads, putting them at great risk. It also changes their grazing habits which keep them healthy all year round.”
Gillie Molland, lead ranger for New Forest National Park Authority said: “We have a great team of rangers out talking to people about the importance of the keep your distance campaign. It’s great when people understand the Forest well enough to ensure they don’t inadvertently cause problems.”
Over the summer, there are free information sessions for people to find out more about the ponies and livestock that live in the Forest.
Led by a Forestry England ranger and commoner, the sessions explain who owns and cares for the livestock, the role these animals play in looking after the Forest, and how the public can best support their welfare.
The sessions will be taking place throughout August every Thursday from 1pm to 2pm at Bolton’s Bench on the 8th, Whitefield Moor on the 15th, Beaulieu Road Sales Yard on the 22nd and Hatchet Pond on the 29th.
Visit www.newforestnpa.gov.uk for more information.