POLLUTION experts are attempting to identify a deadly toxin that is thought to be killing dogs in the New Forest.
At least eight pets have died after injuring themselves at a popular beauty spot - sparking fears that the mystery substance could also pose a threat to human health.
All the dogs were taken ill after being exercised at Latchmore Brook, once part of a wartime bombing range near Fordingbridge.
Last night it was revealed that the Environment Agency has launched an investigation into the deaths amid fears that some of the ordnance is still in the ground.
The water or soil-born poison is thought to have been disturbed, possibly by recent heavy rain.
The Forestry Commission has begun a controversial stream restoration project in the area but says all it has done so far is fell a few trees.
A spokesman said: “The Commission is treating seriously reports of dogs falling ill and dying after walking in the Ogdens area.
“To help find out what is causing this distressing situation we have already got back to the only dog owner who has contacted us so far.
“We are in touch with other organisations, including the Environment Agency and New Forest District Council.
“The Commission has not undertaken any significant ground engineering work in area in recent months, despite speculation that the illness affecting dogs may be associated with work in the area.”
Vets say the toxin entered its victims' bloodstream, causing kidney failure, after the dogs cut their legs or paws.
Louise Beal, of North Gorley, lost her springer spaniel Bruno a week after exercising him near Ogdens car park.
Bruno suffered a cut paw, which Mrs Beal treated with disinfectant before taking him to the Linwood Veterinary Group at Verwood two days later.
Bruno was given antibiotics but his condition deteriorated rapidly.
He was hooked up to a drip and taken to renal specialists Anderson Moores in Winchester in the family car.
But all efforts to save him failed and he died last Saturday.
Mrs Beal said: “The vet thinks it's an unidentified toxin that has worked its way up through disturbed soil, a bit like anthrax.
“We just want to save other people having to go through this - it's been the most awful week.
“I'm worried that the weather will warm up and there will be small children up there. What if this affects humans too?”
Now the vet who treated Bruno, Duncan Reavell, is compiling a database in a bid to track down the cause of the dog deaths.
He said: “This cluster of cases is not chronic kidney failure caused by old age but acute kidney failure caused by something that we haven't been able to identify yet.”
Eight dogs have died over a three-month period but no other species appear to have been affected.
Roger Stobbs of the Forest Veterinary Clinic in Fordingbridge, said: “We don't know what's causing the deaths - they don't fit any normal pattern.
“I would advise dog walkers to stay away from the area.
“If they do go through there they should wash their dogs' feet when they get home so that they can examine them properly.
“If there's any sign of injury they should seek veterinary advice.”