MORE than 2,300 New Forest horse owners have petitioned and written to the New Forest National Park Authority to oppose draft plans that would mean many obtaining retrospective planning permission.

Residents have until 31 October to contact the National Park Authority (NPA) over the plan for the Forest (news, 28 August).

Vet Fiona Macdonald was at a recent meeting of pressure group Forest Uprising.

She told H&H: “The rules will apply to commoners and other horse owners. To comply with them, you would have to keep your horse in a way that I believe is contrary to the Animal Welfare Act.”

The consultation paper spells out the difference, in the NPA’s view, between allowing a horse to graze as an agricultural animal and “keeping” a horse.

The NPA says anyone keeping a horse needs planning permission for a change of use of their land.

To be classed as a grazing animal a horse must be self-sufficient, says the NPA — not rugged or given extra feed — and there must be a stocking density of no less than one hectare per horse.

“They are using figures published by the Scottish parliament denoting stocking levels for horses when used for conservation purposes,” said Ms Macdonald. “They are not relevant for leisure horses on pasture rather than rough land.

“I keep my advance dressage horse at home. I will need to apply for retrospective planning permission if these new rules are brought in.

“There is no way my horse could be kept in the manner they suggest and his 20-year-old field companion, a little pony, would probably only last a week because he would get laminitis.”

Forest Uprising co-founder Tina Cant fears the majority of people applying for planning permission under the new rules would be turned down and forced to get rid of their horses.

“Thousands of people will be affected — there are about 3,500 leisure horses in the New Forest — and the majority of them will not have planning permission,” she said.

New Forest West MP Desmond Swayne has asked the NPA to listen to constituents’ concerns.

He said: “Many people have received a letter from the NPA saying their views will be taken into consideration, but that’s not a consultation. A consultation means discussing the matter, something the NPA has failed to do so far.”

A spokesman for the NPA said: “We want to remind people that these policies are in draft and we are asking for their comments on the policies themselves and not information they have read or heard elsewhere.

“We understand some people are concerned about the draft policies. The plan explains why these draft policies have been included to help address the landscape and land management issues that can arise from recreational horse-keeping.

“We will not begin the review until the consultation process finishes at the end of October so people will have until then to respond.”

To comment on the plan, go to www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/index/aboutus/consultations/national_park_plan.htm.