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Forestry England news release: New powers help to encourage responsible visits to the New Forest

17 October 2023

Newly granted powers were used in the New Forest this summer to intervene in over 150 incidents involving petting and feeding New Forest ponies or donkeys and a ban on the use of BBQs and fires.

Staff from Forestry England, the New Forest National Park Authority and the Verderers of the New Forest were granted powers this summer to enforce two new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) introduced by New Forest District Council.

The orders aim to protect the forest from wildfires by banning BBQs and fires and prohibit feeding and petting ponies or donkeys to improve public safety and animal welfare. Failure to comply could result in a fixed penalty fine or prosecution.

Over the first three months of the new PSPOs, no fines were issued. The New Forest team used the new powers to intervene in 152 incidents involving over 700 people. More than 120 of the incidents involved petting and feeding ponies or donkeys. Those involved were made aware of the rules and potential fine to prevent them approaching the animals and to intervene where people were getting too close.

Only around a fifth of the overall number of PSPO related incidents involved using BBQs and fires on the Forest. This may have been affected in part by this summer's mixed weather and reflects an overall downward trend in their use compared to during last year's heatwave. Despite this, 30 engagements were recorded where staff intervened using the potential fine to stop the use of a number of BBQs, campfires and even a pizza oven set up on the Forest.

Charlotte Belcher, Community Manager for Forestry England, said: "Our focus in these first few months of these new rules has really been on education. Together with our partners and the local community, a huge amount of effort has gone into making sure as many people as possible aware of them and understand why they are in place."

"Talking to hundreds of people this summer it's often the case that they just don't realise the harm these activities can cause, especially when they try to get too close to the famous New Forest ponies. It's clear that when people understand the risk, and how they can change their behaviour to help protect the Forest, most are much more likely to comply without the need for a fine or further action but if needed we now have the power to do this."

Steve Avery, Executive Director of Strategy and Planning from the New Forest National Park Authority said: "It's been great to see all the partner organisations working so well together to protect this special place and whilst more still needs to be done to ensure the New Forest code is followed, the PSPOs have had a really positive impact. As well as the direct approach to people on the ground, attending events, communications and putting up signs, we have been working with the tourism industry and local communities to ensure more people understand how they can help care for the New Forest."

The introduction of the Public Space Protection Orders follows repeated fire damage to the Forest caused by campfires and BBQs over recent years, and the growing risk of wildfires due to increasingly hotter and drier conditions. The PSPO bans the lighting of fires of any type including BBQs and any outdoor cooking facilities or equipment. It also makes it an offence to place, throw or drop items likely to cause a fire such as discarding lit cigarettes.

Concern over the safety of the public and Forest animals, following injuries to people and animal deaths resulting from being fed human food, created the need to better manage public interactions with these free-roaming animals. The PSPO relating to this activity bans feeding and petting ponies or donkeys on the Forest.

Councillor Dan Poole, Portfolio Holder for Community, Safety and Well-being from New Forest District Council, said:

"The early results of these additional powers to help the New Forest are exactly what we hoped for - education and understanding of why following the New Forest Code is so important. I am grateful to our partners for the positive conversations they have had with people, and I am hopeful that this good outcome will continue as we all work together to share the information of why the lighting of fires and the petting and feeding of ponies and donkeys is banned, and how to enjoy the wonderful National Park in better ways."

Teams from Forestry England, the New Forest National Park Authority and the Verderers of the New Forest have regular patrols to engage with the public and explain more about the new rules. Signs and information are in place across the Forest. Along with other key things to know about visiting the area, the new rules are also highlighted in the New Forest Code, widely publicised across the area and shared by local tourism businesses with many visitors before and during their stay.

A new video was also launched earlier this year to help encourage visitors and locals to help look after the landscape and its wildlife.

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