As the hours of darkness get longer, New Forest organisations who make up the Animal Accident Reduction Group are reminding drivers on Forest roads to take extra care and remember to ‘Pass Wide and Slow’ when encountering ponies and other animals.
The call follows the official inclusion of this requirement in the latest edition of the Highway Code.
The winter months have historically been the worst for livestock and wildlife fatalities.
Following a record breaking 15 weeks in early 2022 without a fatal road traffic accident, group members would like to ask the public for their cooperation and support in keeping these numbers down.
To date this year there have been 60 call outs to accidents involving animals compared to 77 in the same period last year, with 24 ponies, one cow and two pigs losing their lives.
Another 16 animals have been injured (numbers correct as at 1 November 2022).
One of the great successes is ‘Operation Mountie’, a joint initiative which has seen 17 operations over the past year.
Police and partner organisations have stopped 155 speeding vehicles, one of which was driving at 70mph in a 40mph area.
Some of those stopped are given tickets or other enforcements, and others are given education about driving to the conditions.
Hampshire Police, working with New Forest agencies, has been running Operation Mountie since November 2021 following evidence from the New Forest Roads Awareness and Community Speed Watch groups on high-risk routes.
Police Sergeant Carl Peverill who began Operation Mountie said: ‘I would like to acknowledge the fantastic work by all our partners – including Forestry England, New Forest National Park Authority and dedicated volunteers at the New Forest Roads Awareness group. This multi-agency approach has been key to reducing the animal casualties and improving safety on New Forest roads.
‘Our partners have played a vital role in educating drivers which we have stopped, warning them of the dangers of travelling at high speeds and the impact that road collisions can have on both animals and the vehicles.
‘Driving conditions throughout the year change and can have a significant impact on Forest roads especially during hours of darkness and in poor weather. Remember, a speed limit is exactly that – a limit. Not a target.’
Education is given to those drivers who are pulled over by members of New Forest Roads Awareness, the Verderers, Forestry England, NFDC and the New Forest National Park Authority. Each driver is also given advice on what to do if they witness or are involved in an accident.
Gilly Jones from New Forest Roads Awareness said: ‘The education we have been offering drivers has been well received. Not only are we reminding people of the consequences of speeding, but also things to look out for when driving on Forest roads throughout the year including foal season, stallions, pannage when pigs are let out on the Forest or unpredictable behaviours when deer are rutting.
It is surprising that many people don’t know that the livestock are owned and have the right of way on the roads. This unique way of working means most people we pull over thank us and leave better informed on how to keep animals and themselves safe on Forest roads.’
The Hit and Run Reward Scheme, run by the Verderers, pays up to £5,000 to any witness who provides information which leads to the successful prosecution of a driver who fails to report an accident with a commoners’ animal.
Sue Westwood, Clerk to the Verderers, said: ‘The figures show a welcome, albeit small reduction, in accidents but the worst time of year is approaching.
‘Please slow down when passing animals on the verge and give them a wide berth, especially 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.’
She added: ‘Remember the speed limit is exactly that – a limit. Drive to the conditions. A collision will significantly slow your journey, assuming you can continue at all. Colliding with a large animal can do a lot of damage to your vehicle and may result in injury to yourself and your passengers.’
Charlotte Belcher, Community Manager for Forestry England, said: ‘Working together on targeted action has helped to drive down the number of animal accidents on New Forest roads. We need everyone driving through the Forest to help us keep it this way by driving safely and being alert to animals on and near the roads.’
Gavin Parker, Chair of the New Forest National Park Authority, said: ‘The New Forest ponies are known as the “architects of the Forest” – their grazing helps make the Forest internationally important for wildlife.
‘Although the overall trend of accidents has been gradually reducing over the years, any death or injury to an animal is a great loss to its owner and the New Forest.’
The New Forest’s Animal Accident Reduction Group has spearheaded a range of measures including police mobile speed cameras on the most dangerous routes and reflective warning signs on key roads during the winter months when accidents peak.
Accidents can happen on any Forest roads and the Verderers of the New Forest fund a special speed camera van which can mobilise into an area if needed. Speed limit reminders and signage are also deployed to remind drivers of the Forest speed limit.
The 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, New Forest Trust, New Forest Association and British Deer Society.
Who to contact in the event of an accident
Legally, you should report any accident involving a pony, cow, donkey, pig, sheep or deer to the Police as soon as possible, within 24 hours, even if the animal runs off. Reports should be made either by calling 999 in an emergency or 101 for non-emergencies.
Sick, injured or distressed animals, excluding deer, should be reported to the Verderers’ office by calling 023 8028 2052 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm only).
Alternatively, animals, including deer, can be reported to Forestry England’s 24-hour line: 0300 067 4600.
A what3Words location can help to reduce the time it takes to get you or an animal help.
Operation Mountie statistics (Nov 2021 – Oct 2022)
Operation Mountie focuses on education for drivers who are driving a few miles an hour over the speed limit. Tickets are given to those who are going at higher speeds. There have been 17 operations over eight locations.
155 vehicles have been stopped.
145 given education by Partners
41 have been given enforcement.
29 drivers have been given tickets for speeding at 50 mph or over. The highest speed recorded is 70mph.
Three drivers have been given tickets for having no insurance, having no business insurance and no MOT.
Five drivers have had cars seized for a combination of no tax, no insurance or no licence.
One driver failed a roadside drug test and was arrested.
One driver was wanted for the theft of Fuel from several petrol stations across the county and was dealt with at the roadside.
One driver was charged with Taking a Vehicle Without Consent.
One ticket was issued for an incorrect number plate.