CATTLE will not be inspected and branded before being turned out onto the New Forest next spring, the verderers have confirmed.
The decision has been taken in response to ongoing Covid-19 social distancing requirements, and marks a departure from the standard practice of agisters inspecting and marking each animal.
Minutes of the verderers committee revealed changes have been driven by the potential health and safety risk to the agisters team.
It cautioned: “The Covid situation is deteriorating and the court feels that, unfortunately, it is likely to get worse as the winter progresses.”
However, three cattle owners have asked the verderers to rethink the decision and pointed to recent welfare checks of ponies which went ahead as planned during the annual drifts.
Cattle owners Debbie Stokes, Robert Stride and Charlotte Lines, who is chair of the Commoners’ Defence Association, made an appeal to the Verderers’ Court.
They wrote: “We are concerned that the cattle will be not be subject to the same welfare checks as the ponies.”
The trio pointed out that the practice of marking only required the cattle owners and one agister to be present, along with a vet to undertake an annual TB test.
They continued: “It is imperative that the agister assesses both the temperament and condition of the cattle at close quarters before they are approved for turn-out.”
They also pointed out that the practice of marking allows new commoners to seek expert advice from agisters.
In response, the verderers reaffirmed that marking will not take place in 2021, but agisters will undertake visual checks of cattle as part of their everyday duties.
They also said unfit animals will be removed from the Forest as necessary. The practice is
expected to be reinstated in 2022.