FAMILIES visiting the New Forest are being urged to stay safe by keeping away from the animals.

Organisations have launched a campaign called Keep Your Distance amid fears people are putting themselves at risk by getting too close to ponies and other livestock.

Head agister Jonathan Gerrelli and his team are responsible for overseeing all the free-roaming animals in the district.

He said: “Most of the ponies and donkeys are even-tempered and often come close to visitors, but they’re not used to being handled and should be left alone.

“They can react very suddenly if they feel threatened, so please give them space.

New Forest Post:

“The animals may look friendly but they can kick or bite, especially when they have young with them.

“Take particular care around cattle and ponies with foals, especially if you have a dog with you.”

Over the years several people have been injured while attempting to feed the ponies, which are described as semi-wild.

Katie Walding of the New Forest Commoners’ Defence Association said: “Grazing animals are vital to everything we all love about the Forest. We believe people wouldn’t get too close if they understood this - and the risks to themselves and the animals.

“The Forest provides all the food the animals need.

New Forest Post:

“Feeding them just draws them to people, car parks and roads, putting them at great risk. It also changes the grazing habits which keep them healthy all year round.”

Rangers and commoners will explain at meetings who owns and looks after the animals, the role the animals play in looking after the Forest, and how the public can support their welfare.

All the sessions will take place at 1pm on Thursdays during August.

The dates and venues are: Bolton’s Bench, Lyndhurst (August 8); Whitefield Moor, Brockenhurst (August 15); Beaulieu Road Pony Sales Yard (August 22); Hatchet Pond, Beaulieu (August 29).