An online petition has been set up by a New Forest resident calling for it to be an offence for any horse, pony, donkey, pig, sheep or cow to roam in the New Forest National Park without a reflective collar.

Without any reflective marking, the free-roaming animals have been deemed as a danger to motorists — especially during the winter. More than 100 animals are killed by motorists each year, and over the past three years, 90% of these deaths have been at night.

“I am appalled about the tragic accidents involving livestock, and the undoubted costs to repair the vehicles involved,” said Nick Thomas-Webster, an actor who lives on the edge of the New Forest. “It’s time we looked at the practicalities of life today and insist animals wear reflective marking.”

But the Verderers of the New Forest, who act to protect and conserve the forest and its wildlife, said that such legislation would be unenforceable. They already supply free collars to owners — which are worn by about 700 of the 4,470 ponies roaming in the forest at present.

“It’s the owners’ choice, we can’t force them,” said Sally Cardwell, assistant to the Verderers’ clerk, Sue Westwood. “We hope that people who have animals near to unfenced areas will put collars on, but it would be impossible to enforce.

“Some commoners are concerned that young ponies may get caught up in branches and hanged,” added Sue Westwood. “If ponies lose their collars would we still prosecute the owner? To make it a law isn’t practical. These collars aren’t infallible.”

Recently a mare was killed on the road by a driver overtaking another car.

“The mare was sideways on, so the collar would have been visible,” said Sue Westwood.

Last month the New Forest National Park brought out a reminder card of the animal emergency hotlines for drivers to keep in their car in case of an accident.

To download the emergency hotline card visit the park’s website: www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/index/news/campaigns/animal_accidents/animal_emergency_hotline.htm.

To sign up to the petition: http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/reflectcollars/

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (22 November, ’07)