PONIES killed on New Forest roads are believed to have been licking salt laid to combat ice.

But civic chiefs have rejected calls to stop salting icy roads or to find an alternative substance.

The ponies are believed to have been licking freshly-laid salt on the B3078 Roger Penny Way, near Brook, when they were hit by a Land Rover Discovery on New Year’s Eve.

Hampshire county councillor David Harrison urged the authority to “look at the wisdom” of treating Forest roads with salt, saying there might be a grit-only alternative.

But deputy leader, Cllr Rob Humby, said salting would continue to protect motorists. He added: “I fully recognise the uniqueness of the New Forest environment but the county council has a duty of care to take reasonable steps to keep the roads clear of snow and ice.”

All the free-roaming animals in the Forest are owned by people known as commoners. Cllr Humby said he was aware that some commoners put out salt-lick blocks during the winter to encourage animals to stay away from road salt. But he said animals could still be attracted to roads because the tarmac was warmer and drier than the forest floor.

He added: “I would remind those who do need to make essential journeys at this time to drive carefully through the New Forest, adhere to the speed limits at all times, check the weather forecast before setting out and drive according to the conditions.”

Cllr Humby said the council worked with other agencies to ensure its activities “respected and preserved” the character of the Forest.

He added: “The clear advice from government at the moment is to stay at home and only go out if absolutely necessary.

“With less traffic on our roads de-icing salt may be less effective so the risk of icy surfaces remains.”

Writing on social media Cllr Harrison said: “I am glad I asked the question.“I am not surprised that Hampshire County Council is following statutory guidance with regard to road salting procedures. “The problem is that 99% of the country does not have animals present on the roads.”

Cllr Harrison said the presence of salt attracted animals onto the roads, creating an additional hazard that might offset the benefits of salting.

But he added: “Perhaps I was optimistic in asking whether the county council would treat the area as an exception.”

The crash which killed four ponies happened at around 8.45pm on New Year’s Eve. Police are not taking any action against the driver. An online petition has been set up calling for average speed cameras to make Forest roads safer.

An online petition has been set up by commoner Gilly Jones on behalf of New Forest Roads Awareness calling on New Forest District Council (NFDC) to “add its support to calls for the introduction of an average speed camera system on the B3078” follow a number of animal deaths on that road last month.