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New Forest cattle grazing under threat without dog walkers' support, verderers warn

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THE ancient practice of grazing cows on the New Forest could be under threat if dog walkers do not support a campaign to pick up after their pets, the verderers have warned.

Official Verderer Lord Manners said the neospora bug, which is linked to the waste of dogs and foxes, could have far-reaching consequences after 18 cattle recently aborted their unborn calves, having contracted the disease.

He declared: “The sheer number of dogs being walked daily on the Forest means that unless things change this may prove to be a growing problem which could render keeping cattle on the Forest unviable.”

Tom Gould lost 18 unborn calves
Tom Gould lost 18 unborn calves

As reported in the A&T, commoner Tom Gould was devastated when his herd tested positive for the illness after grazing last summer at the popular walking spots of Wilverley and Longslade.

Blood tests confirmed neospora was present in 18 cows which aborted their calves.

Speaking at a meeting of the Verderers’ Court, Lord Manners said: “It is likely that the cattle became infected after grazing on grass that was contaminated as a result of dog faeces having been left on the ground.

“This parasite can survive in the soil for weeks if dog poo is not promptly picked up and removed.”

He warned the severity of the illness went beyond the loss of the calves, adding: “If an infected cow managed to calf despite having the parasite, it is highly probable that her calf will in turn be a carrier for the disease.”

The neospora bug is linked to the waste of dogs and foxes
The neospora bug is linked to the waste of dogs and foxes

The only way to eradicate the illness was to cull the infected animals, Lord Manners said, and that recent research had raised concerns that New Forest ponies could also become infected.

He said: “We have learnt from Covid that swiftly implemented, simple measures can do much to reduce the transmission of infectious disease.

“We therefore ask dog walkers to follow both the New Forest Code and the new Countryside Code by picking up dog poo, removing it and disposing of it safely.

“There is really no excuse for any dog walker not to follow theses codes and this tragedy serves to underline the critical importance of all dog walkers behaving responsibly.”

He said he hoped a growing public awareness of the issue would lead to a change in attitude but if the disease recurred in Forest stock, the verderers would look to Forestry England to make picking up dog mess mandatory.

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