DRIVERS are being urged to take extra care following the worst spate of animal accidents in the New Forest for several years.

The National Park Authority (NPA) has revealed that 21 collisions took place in the first two weeks of November.

Five animals were killed, four were injured and six escaped unhurt. The other six ran off and could not be found.

Animal accidents often rise sharply in November, mainly as a result of the bad weather and darker evenings.

But this year's spike is even worse than normal. The unusually high number of collisions compares with 18 in the same two weeks of last year and 12 in 2010.

Nigel Matthews, the NPA's community and visitor services manager, urged motorists to be more alert.

“It's important to drive at a sensible speed, give animals a wide berth and make sure you can stop if one steps into the road at the last minute,” he said.

“Ponies have no road sense, so it's up to the driver to slow down when necessary.”

Mr Matthews stressed that the consequences of a collision could be “catastrophic” not only for the animal but also for the driver, their passengers and the vehicle.

Sue Westwood, clerk to the Verderers, added: “This is the worst spate of animal accidents for a long time.

“We want to remind people once again to be more vigilant when driving through the Forest. If vehicles are coming towards them they should slow down and give themselves time to react if an animal steps out in front of their vehicle.”

Two of the recent collisions were hit-and-runs in which injured animals were left to suffer.

The Verderers offer a £1,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of a driver who fails to report an accident with a commoner's animal.