Animal Casualties in the New Forest

BBC Solent will running a week of programming on Animal Casualties in the New Forest from Monday 27th March, starting with a discussion on the Julian Clegg morning show. This has been prompted by the public debate, reignited by the recent animal casualties on the B3078 (three killed or humanely destroyed in the week commencing 30th January alone), already taking place within the Forest.

Unfortunately, this week of discussions will take place during the ‘purdah’ period of the May Local Government elections and therefore, to ensure their impartiality is maintained, the BBC is limited in the contributions it can broadcast from those seeking election. This is a shame as I am not aware of this being a party political issue, but I appreciate their position.

This being the situation, I thought that it would be useful to set out my position. I am currently the County Councillor for the Fordingbridge Division of Hampshire County Council (which includes the B3078 between Godshill and Bramshaw), Deputy Chairman of the New Forest National Park Authority and a member of the Verderer’s Court, and am therefore regularly working with the many organisations and individuals who have and continue to work to reduce the animal casualties.

Partnership working to reduce animal injuries and deaths is a key priority for a number of stakeholders and continues even when not receiving current levels of media and public interest. It is important to recognise work that has already been undertaken over many years to reduce animal casualties and pay tribute to groups, organisations and individuals that have played key roles in this. The Animal Accident Reduction Group, members of which include representatives of the Verderers, National Park Authority and Police amongst others, has been a key driver in reducing animal deaths and its work should be applauded.

Which leads to the need, while obviously being rightly concerned about the level of animal injuries and deaths and in no way being complacent, to recognise that in 2015 casualties were at their lowest since records started. 1962 saw the highest number stock (ponies, cattle, pigs, sheep & donkeys) deaths recorded (until 1985 only deaths, not injuries were recorded) at 313. With 6,484 animal running, this amounted to 4.82% of the stock on the Forest being killed in a single year. 1963, while having slightly fewer deaths (289), with a reduction in the level of stock turned out (4,658) saw this percentage rise to 6.2%.

Thankfully, due to a series of measures since 1963 including the introduction of the 40 mph limits in March 1990 (North) and June 1992 (South), current casualties are at nothing like that level. In 2015, 55 animals were killed. With record levels of stock depastured (10,714) this represented 0.51% of stock.

This is not to say that with 55 deaths and a further 21 injuries to stock, that there isn’t more that needs to be done. And while the overall number of casualties have reduced, it is clear that a small number of roads within the Forest are responsible for a large number of the current casualties. In October 2015 I requested a report be brought to Hampshire County Council’s Economy, Transport & Environment Select Committee on ‘Animal Casualties on New Forest Roads’.

(http://www3.hants.gov.uk/councilmeetings/advsearchmeetings/meetingsitemdocuments.htm?sta=&pref=Y&item_ID=7014&tab=2&co=&confidential=)

This report confirmed that the majority of animal casualties occur on three routes:

B3078 Cadnam to Godshill (Roger Penny Way)

B3054 Hatchet Pond to Portmore

B3056 Beaulieu to Lyndhurst

This leads to the conclusion that, while work needs to continue to seek to reduce the overall number of animal casualties and that current measures such as the Verderer’s funded speed camera van and Commoners Defence Association led education and social media campaign ‘Shared Forest’ are vital, further targeted measures on these three routes is also required.

In the Spring of 2016 a revised signage scheme was agreed and implemented on the B3078 which, while reducing the number of signposts along the route, increased the number of warning signs by placing them ‘back to back’ so that they could be viewed by traffic travelling in both directions. At the same time a greater variety of messages were introduced such as “Ponies don’t dent they die”. It is too soon to establish whether these measures have led to any reduction in casualties as, to account for any statistical anomalies, data needs to be collected over a number of years, but information from speed monitoring (Speed Indicator Devices, traffic monitors and the Police Camera Van), indicate that any effect is likely to be minimal.

I have therefore asked the Executive Member for the Environment & Transport at Hampshire County Council to consider allocating funding for a feasibility study as to the technical, legislative and financial practicalities of installing an average speed camera system on the B3078. At the same time as any feasibility study is undertaken it will also be necessary to consider the potential impact on the landscape and grazing within the Forest and establish whether the proposals would have public support.

I don’t believe that average speed cameras on the B3078 will stop all animal casualties, but ensuring adherence to the current 40mph speed limit would certainly help. But this needs to be combined with enforcement of the by-laws against feed of stock, which encourages them nearer to roads; greater awareness amongst drivers of the unpredictability of stock, that they may wander or even run onto the road at any time and the need to pass slow and wide; and the investigation and prosecution of those unspeakable individuals who ‘hit and run’, who may have also been committing other offences at the time such as drink driving, driving while disqualified or not having insurance.

I am sure the debate will also touch on other measures, such as reducing the 40mph limit to 30mph or fencing more Forest roads. Personally, I don’t support a reduction of the New Forest speed limit to 30mph for a number of reasons (which I would be happy to expand upon at another time), but I understand the positon of those who do,

Fencing more roads however, is likely to destroy the very things we are trying to protect, reducing the New Forest from ancient open grazing where stock can move freely to a series of large fields. Those who advocate fencing often say that it is time to consider ‘radical’ solutions and that fencing is the only way to ensure the stocks safety. But what they mean is, that it is the only way to ensure the animals safety but have no adverse impact on drivers.

Not that I would advocate or support it, but closing roads as through routes would reduce traffic, forcing it onto the existing fenced roads such as the A31 and, along with introducing aggressive traffic calming, or even return the surface of some roads to Hoggin (local gravel), it could achieve the same reductions in animal casualties as fencing. These measures would adversely impact the lives of those living and working within the Forest and damage the local economy, but would have no adverse impact on the stock and undoubtedly reduce animal deaths. I don’t believe we need to go down the route of considering ‘radical’ solutions, but if others do, let’s not just consider those that are most advantageous to the Forest’s human inhabitants.