THREE donkeys were killed in the New Forest in a “tragic” and “truly shocking” crash.

Police were called just after 7am on Saturday to reports of a collision on the B3078 Roger Penny Way, close to the Fritham junction, involving a white Mercedes van and three donkeys.

Organisations in the Forest are reminding drivers animals are on the roads day and night, and after driving over the cattle grids drivers will encounter animals on or crossing the roads, and on roadsides.

Nigel Matthews, New Forest National Park Authority’s head of recreation management and learning, convenes the New Forest Animal Accident Reduction Group. He said: “Although the long-term trend of animal accidents is downwards, the death of any animal is a great loss to the Forest and to its owner. For three donkeys to lose their lives together like this is truly shocking. We appeal to drivers to please slow down on the unfenced roads of the New Forest. The Commoners’ animals are out all year round, day and night, and you should expect them to be on the roads or to step out without warning.”

The New Forest’s Animal Accident Reduction Group is supported by the Commoners Defence Association, Forestry England, Verderers of the New Forest, New Forest National Park Authority, New Forest District Council, Hampshire County Council, Hampshire Constabulary, The New Forest Trust, New Forest Association and The British Deer Society South West Branch.

Commoner Gilly Jones, of New Forest Roads Awareness and a speed watch volunteer, added: “There is a blanket 40mph speed limit with 30mph in the villages. However, a speed limit is the maximum speed vehicles should be travelling at and, it is not necessarily a safe speed.

“The loss of any animal impacts many people - the commoner who has lost their animal, the Agister and police who have to attend incidents, and the driver and witnesses.”

Drivers are legally obliged to report all accidents involving a pony, cow, donkey, pig or sheep to the police as soon as possible, and within 24hrs at the latest. Call the Police on 999 (for an emergency) or 101 (non-emergency).

Councillor Edward Heron, who is Hampshire County Council’s executive member for countryside and rural affairs, said he was “deeply saddened” to hear of the animal deaths and that once police investigations were complete, information about the circumstances would be shared with the Forest’s Accident Reduction Group.

Ann Sevier, who is a New Forest district councillor for Fordingbridge and is a commoner with ponies along that stretch of road, said: “The three donkeys were a common site on the road up at Longcross and I’d driven past them many times.

“It made me feel very hollow inside that an accident like this should take three donkeys in one day.”

Korine Bishop, Hampshire Constabulary Rural Policing Inspector, said: “This was a tragic incident which resulted in the death of three New Forest donkeys. The driver of the vehicle was spoken to at the scene by officers – with police enquiries ongoing to determine the exact circumstances of the incident.

“Yet, tragic as this incident is it is a timely reminder to the residents and those driving through the New Forest to be aware of your surroundings. We are now beginning to see wetter roads and reduced visibility due to dark early mornings and fog across the New Forest. While there is a maximum speed limit of 40 miles per hour applied across the area, motorists are advised to adapt their speed to the current driving conditions.”

A van from La Chasse Limited was involved in the incident. Catherine Cotton, of La Chasse Limited, said: “Obviously, we are very saddened at the incident which involved the deaths of three donkeys. It’s a complete shock to everybody.

“I can’t comment on the details of the incident because it is still is being investigated by the police and internally by the company.” She said the driver involved has been suspended while this continues.

She says the company has received a “torrent of abuse” and has had to shut down its social media accounts as well as abusive phone calls and emails which have been reported to the police.

She added: “These people are prejudging a situation without knowing the details. When animals are involved it is very emotive we are desperately sad about that. It is just very, very shocking the whole thing and we are all very upset.”

Police are appealing for witnesses to come forward. Contact 101.