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Commoners urged to dehorn their cattle following attacks on walkers

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Could we be seeing fewer horns on New Forest cattle? (Stock photo)
Could we be seeing fewer horns on New Forest cattle? (Stock photo)

NEW Forest commoners have been urged to remove the horns from their cattle following attacks recently carried out on unsuspecting walkers.

In what has been described as an “unprecedented move”, Dr Tony Hockley, chairman of the Commoners Defence Association (CDA) has written a letter to the 200 people who are registered to turn cattle out to graze the Forest after a spate of attacks involving walkers, mostly with dogs, resulted in serious injuries since 2018.

One incident involved an 86-year-old woman who was attacked near her home at Fritham, while she was walking her dog in the Forest. She was repeatedly gored by the cow after she inadvertently came between it and its calf which was hidden nearby in the bushes.

Another instance reported in the A&T resulted in a herd of New Forest cows being slaughtered after they launched an attack which put a dog walker in hospital with serious injuries as well as killing one of his pets.

The cattle, which were believed to have been previously worried by dogs, attacked the canines, fatally injuring one of them before turning on the man as he tried to save them.

Alongside the recommendation, Dr Hockley said that the CDA will be stepping up its campaign for better signage on appropriate behaviour around livestock, particularly the close control of dogs, and enforcement of laws and byelaws.

He stated: “People seem to have lost all connection with the countryside and any healthy respect for large livestock. It is wonderful that the extensive grazed lowland heath has survived here, whilst it has been lost almost everywhere else.

“It is now a habitat that is rarer than rainforest, of global importance for biodiversity and grazing by cattle is central to this. In the past the threat has come from development, today it comes from thoughtless recreation.

“People seem genuinely unwilling to make even a small detour around livestock, and just to put their dog on a short lead around grazing animals. Yet the land is accessible to walkers because of the grazing.”

CDA chairman Dr Tony Hockley
CDA chairman Dr Tony Hockley

Dr Hockley added: “Over the years dangerous incidents involving livestock have been extremely rare yet, in the past two years, there have been several. Commoning is a vocational activity and people choose to engage in it out of commitment to this special landscape, alongside their jobs. If someone is injured by a commoner’s grazing animal, it is deeply distressing for everyone involved.”

The CDA’s move follows a meeting of commoners on recreation and cattle held in September, hosted jointly by the verderers and CDA.

Dr Hockley explained: “This was the one step that our association felt we could take ourselves that might mitigate the harm done by the situation in which the New Forest now finds itself. Most cattle are already dehorned, which suggests that it is not something that would deter people from turning cattle out to graze.

“We decided to exclude British breeds for which horns are an essential characteristic, primarily English Longhorns and Highlands. As far as I am aware we have never had an incident involving these two breeds.

“We are also talking to government, the Verderers, and local agencies about other steps on education of Forest users and proper law enforcement.”

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