CAMPAIGNERS are celebrating a 50 per cent reduction in the number of animal accidents in the New Forest.

New figures released by the National Park Authority show that 15 animals were killed or injured between November 1 and December 16, compared to 31 in the same period last year. It follows the launch of a new campaign that aims to persuade drivers to cut the risk of accidents by reducing their speed.

Animal lovers say motorists can make a big difference simply by taking an extra three minutes to complete their journey across the Forest. Nearly 100 free-roaming animals were killed or injured in the district in 2016.

As reported in the Daily Echo, a quarter of the accidents took place on just four cross-country routes after the clocks went back.

The new campaign urges motorists to slow down in the dark and thus prevent the usual spike in animal deaths and injuries during the winter. Measures include new warning signs on high-risk roads, extensive use of a police speed camera van and a large amount of social media activity. Twenty of the largest employers in the Forest have signed up to the campaign to encourage awareness among their staff.

All the animals are owned by commoners – villagers with the right to let their ponies, cows and donkeys roam the landscape. Every year they munch their way through huge amounts of vegetation, preventing the area from turning into an overgrown wilderness.

Tony Hockley, chairman of the Commoners’ Defence Association, said: “After the awful accident rate of last winter it’s a relief to see things getting better. People allow their animals to roam the New Forest to keep it the way everyone loves it. This year local organisations came together to emphasise how even very small changes can make a big difference. We have all pushed very hard to get the message across. Taking only a few extra minutes to complete a Forest commute makes it a lot safer in the winter darkness.”

Commenting on the new figures Dr Hockley added: “Hopefully this is an early sign of success. Every animal matters to its owner and every accident makes it harder for us to take the decision to allow them to graze the Forest for everyone’s benefit. We’re hugely grateful to everyone helping make this a better winter. This gives us real hope.”

Courtesy Bournemouth Daily Echo