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NFDC Cabinet Advances Prohibitions on Forest Pony Feeding and Barbecues to Consultation

New Forest District Council has sent two draft Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO) for the Forest to address fires, barbecues, pony feeding and petting to public consultation.

In the first of a series on PSPO’s we discuss these two orders, our broad support, and initial suggestions.

At the 2nd November New Forest District Council Cabinet meeting, members approved two draft Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO) for public consultation.  The first to ban the lighting of fires and use of BBQs (principally on the Crown Lands), and the second to ban the feeding and petting of ponies, horses, mules, and donkeys in the open areas of the New Forest.  We broadly support both of these PSPO’s, and hope that the addition of these restrictions will make a significant difference with these issues. Years of positive messaging have not always succeeded.  These PSPO’s allow fixed penalties notices of £100 to be issued, giving more bite to the byelaws and guidance already in place.

PSPO’s are meant prohibit anti-social behaviours or require certain restrictions on activities within a public space.  Their framework was established in the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014.  Each PSPO must undergo public consultation, pertains to specified public space within a defined area, lasts for 3 years before review and repeated consultation.  The Act requires that the target behaviour is detrimental to those in the locality, is persistent, is unreasonable, and justifies restrictions imposed under the order.  Guidance specifies PSPOs should be used responsibly and proportionately in response to issues that cause anti-social behaviour and where necessary to protect the public.

Petting and feeding the Forest’s semi-feral ponies will alter their behaviour, making them more aggressive, apt to bite or kick if subsequently denied human food, and tempting them to spend more time on roads where they are more vulnerable to accidents.  This makes them a danger to the public and themselves.  Their natural diet is grazing the Forest, altering this can lead to digestive problems, and even death from choke or colic.  Misguided, well meaning leaving of carrots, apples, grass cuttings has led to deadly consequences.

At the Cabinet Meeting, Commoners Defence Association Chair Charlotte Lines welcomed the PSPO targeting inappropriate interactions with Forest ponies. “The continued petting and feeding of our legally depastured animals is ever increasing.  Whilst education and signage has its place, and helps to a degree, it’s not been enough in recent years, and now is the time to implement stronger measures.  The Public Space Protection Order will be vital in ensuring the Forest and our animals are protected so that they can continue to provide the essential service of grazing which is needed to maintain and enhance the landscape and the ecological diversity we see today.”

The NFDC documents referred to our Byelaw Watch surveys within their evidence base for this PSPO.  During six weeks in autumn 2021, the survey reported 150 instances of livestock being fed by the public.  This year, between 25th July 2022 – 31st August 2022,  a Forest wide survey including more than 98 observers, reported 187 instances of livestock being fed and/or petted.  Another 66 instances were recorded in our static snapshot survey of Nine popular car parks on August 29th Bank Holiday Monday 10:00 am – 2:30 pm.

We will be refining our response to the upcoming consultation, but for now we’d note that NFDC might take a page from other councils which alongside similar measures for fires and barbecues, have also banned or restricted fireworks.   Over 190 councils in England have committed to banning sky lanterns, many have included this ban in their PSPO’s.  The National Park says they have banned sky lanterns on their web page on wild fires, but it is unclear if they have any practical way at their disposal to enforce this ban.

The 2018 moorlands fire near Stalybridge destroyed 4,500 acres, killed many farm animals, necessitated evacuation of 150 residents. Troops assisted 15 fire services.  The smoke affected air quality across the north west of England.  The Environment Agency estimated the cost from moorland damage at:

  • 26,281 tonnes of carbon dioxide were released, valued at £1.68 million
  • 15,400 tonnes of carbon sequestration capacity was lost, valued at £3.6 million (capacity to take in and store carbon as peat)
  • 1.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (equivalent) is stored in the moor valued at £121 million
  • 7810 tourist visitors per year were lost, valued at £205,000

Afterwards many local authorities in that area (including Tameside, Oldham and High Peak Borough) introduced PSPO’s prohibiting activities carrying a significant risk of causing wildfires: lighting a barbecue, building or lighting any kind of fire, and lighting fireworks or launching sky lanterns carrying an open flame.

The summer 2020 Wareham Forest Fire impacted approx. 220 hectares of heath and woodland, and saw firefighters from all 50 of Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service stations involved in the major incident that lasted over two weeks.  The number of incidents in Dorset relating to BBQs between 2016 and 2020:

2016 –

4

2017 –

3

2018 –

16

2019 –

18

2020 –

74

The Dorset Open Land Anti-social Behaviour Related Public Spaces Protection Order 2022 came into force on 1st July 2022 which included prohibition on:

a. placing, throwing or dropping items likely to cause a fire,
b. lighting fires, barbeques (including disposable barbeques), Chinese lanterns or fireworks,
c. using items which either (i) cause a naked flame or (ii) pose a risk of fire

The language for the NFDC PSPO is almost the same, excepting the exclusion of sky lanterns and fireworks.  With drier hotter summers expected, we should look to prospective threats.  We will join others in encouraging NFDC to include these prohibitions explicitly.

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