‘EXPECT the unexpected’ is the warning to drivers on New Forest roads this autumn following the injuries or death of more than 30 animals this year. 

Thirty-seven ponies, cows, sheep and pigs were killed or injured in road accidents with only a quarter of speeding drivers knowing what to do if they were involved in an accident with free-roaming animals.

Salisbury Journal: New Forest PonyNew Forest Pony (Image: Russell Sach)

New Forest Road Awareness spokesperson, Gilly Jones said: “Animals roaming across the New Forest have right of way and can be extremely unpredictable.

“Drivers need to be able to react quickly and if the worst does happen it’s essential that they know what to do. If you are involved in an accident with a Forest animal, please call 999 immediately even if it runs off as it may have an internal injury.”

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Several hundred drivers have been caught speeding over the last two years by Operation Mountie which is a multi-agency road project led by Hampshire Police and is supported by New Forest Road Awareness, Forestry England, and the New Forest National Park Authority.

In just 20 days, speeding motorists were stopped or given tickets or education about driving to the conditions and the behaviour of Forest animals near or close to the roads. It is a legal requirement to report an accident involving forest animals to the police as soon as possible. 

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In a 24-hour period, only 26 per cent of motorists stopped were aware of this.

Community manager for Forestry England, Charlotte Belcher said: “As the light fades and the weather starts to become more unpredictable all of us travelling through the Forest need to take extra care. Many of those we speak to are aware of the risks but think it won’t happen to them. It’s not worth taking that risk, it can happen to anyone, and we all need to drive safely through this special place.”

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Organisations within the New Forest are encouraging people to carry a hotline with essential phone numbers to call if an animal is killed or injured and are asking people to help raise awareness by displaying a new animal safety car window sticker made from eco-friendly materials.

Verderers spokesperson, Sue Westwood said: “Please pass wide and slow when approaching ponies and other animals on the Forest verge.

"This is especially important during the autumn and winter months when it is dark, foggy, or raining or you are blinded by oncoming headlights or a low sun. Expect the animals to walk out in front of you, they have no road sense.”