Campaigners against “crazy” planning restrictions in the New Forest have been so successful that the national park authority wants them to be part of an equine advisory group to oversee future plans.

After a year-long fight by horse owners, the New Forest National Park Authority (NFNPA) has backed down over rules that would have forced many horse owners to get planning permission if they wanted to feed or rug their privately kept animals.

Many local authorities require planning permission when land is developed for stables and arenas.

But as part of an unpopular strategy to preserve the character of the Forest, the NFNPA widened this to include grazing on private land — if horses are rugged or fed, or more than one horse is grazed per hectare.

Officials were concerned by “a proliferation of insensitive fencing, poorly located stables and field shelters and bundles of plastic-wrapped hay”.

Tina Cant, of the pressure group Forest Uprising (news, 28 August 2008), said: “At a public meeting on 2 September, officers implied they were dropping these rules, but the ultimate decision will be made by authority members in December.”

But the NFNPA’s Stephen Avery told H&H: “The draft policy will be revised to bring it into line with the district council’s, which is accepted by local horse owners.”

A 7,200-name petition was submitted against the plans and Mr Avery acknowledged the opposition was instrumental in changing the authority’s mind.

He said: “We now have a new understanding with horse keepers and we want to build on this.”

The NFNPA has set up the New Forest Equine Forum, with representatives of the New Forest Breeding and Cattle Society, the British Horse Society and other equestrian groups, to help formulate the final draft plan for the national park.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (17 September, ’09)