Naturalist Chris Packham says the New Forest is 'being destroyed' by a growing number of ponies.

A report published by The Guardian today quotes Mr Packham, who has lived in the forest for 12 years, as saying overgrazing by the ponies, as well as cattle and deer, is causing loss of woodland and threatening other species.

Read the full piece here

In the piece he is quoted as saying: “In simplistic terms, we have a New Forest now but we won’t have a New Forest tomorrow because there is simply no regeneration taking place."

Along with other campaigners, he blames the loss of biodiversity on pony numbers which have increased from around 2,000 in 1960 to 5,000 today, the newspaper claims.

Dr Elena Cantarello, a scientist at Bournemouth University, backs his view.

In the article she says that when overgrazing combines with climate change, "the resilience of the forest and the biodiversity declines a lot more rapidly".

Mr Packham says the pressure of overgrazing is also leading to ponies "killing" trees by stripping the bark off them.

"It's unforgiveable", he tells the national newspaper.

The Verderers of the New Forest, who oversee the commoning practices, claim a system of payments does not encourage people to increase their stock, but in fact protects from overgrazing.

Clerk to the Verderers, Sue Westwood highlights a new EU-funded Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), which could be having an effect on numbers.

She is quoted as saying: “It is unfortunate that some commoners have exploited the new BPS by significantly increasing their cattle herds.

"The majority of commoners have not done so, and the Verderers, and indeed the majority of commoners, are concerned that there will be adverse publicity affecting all commoners when in fact it is just a small minority who have sought to overexploit the EU subsidy system and the forest itself.”