CIVIC chiefs have rejected calls to stop salting icy roads in the New Forest - despite an accident in which four ponies were killed.

The ponies are believed to have been licking freshly-laid salt on the B3078 Roger Penny Way, near Brook, when they were hit by a Land Rover Discovery.

Three of the animals were killed instantly and the fourth died a few minutes later from its injuries.

Hampshire county councillor David Harrison urged the authority to “look at the wisdom” of treating Forest roads with salt, saying their might be a grit-only alternative.

But the council's deputy leader, Cllr Rob Humby, said salting would continue - to protect motorists.

He added: "I fully recognise the uniqueness of the New Forest environment but the county council has a duty of care to take reasonable steps to keep the roads clear of snow and ice."

All the free-roaming animals in the Forest are owned by people known as commoners.

Cllr Humby said he was aware that some commoners put out salt-lick blocks during the winter to encourage animals to stay away from road salt.

But he said animals could still be attracted to roads because the tarmac was warmer and drier than the forest floor.

He added: "I would remind those who do need to make essential journeys at this time to drive carefully through the New Forest, adhere to the speed limits at all times, check the weather forecast before setting out and drive according to the conditions.”

Cllr Humby said the council worked with other agencies to ensure its activities "respected and preserved" the character of the Forest.

He added: "The clear advice from government at the moment is to stay at home and only go out if absolutely necessary.

"With less traffic on our roads de-icing salt may be less effective so the risk of icy surfaces remains."

The accident involving the four ponies occurred opposite the entrance to Roundhill car park at around 8.45pm on New Year's Eve.

As reported in the Daily Echo, police are not taking any action against the driver.

He was travelling at less than 40mph - the speed limit on all unfenced roads in the Forest. Reports say he was blinded by the headlights of an oncoming vehicle.

Writing on social media Cllr Harrison said: "I am glad I asked the question.

"I am not surprised that Hampshire County Council is following statutory guidance with regard to road salting procedures.

"The problem is that 99% of the country does not have animals present on the roads."

Cllr Harrison said the presence of salt attracted animals on to the roads, creating an additional hazard that might offset the benefits of salting.

But he added: "Perhaps I was optimistic in asking whether the county council would treat the area as an exception."