A NATIONAL campaign to halt the spread of bovine TB could change the face of the New Forest by halting the movement of cattle.
Under proposals drawn up by the Government, animal owners will have to get their cows tested by vets every time they are moved on or off the open forest.
In some cases the tests will need to be carried out every day, which could force Commoners to abandon their ancient way of life.
Now the Verderers, the organisation in charge of Forest stock, are urging the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to introduce a licensing system instead.
The Forest is famous for its ponies but also has 3,500 cows owned by a total of 140 Commoners.
Many of those living next door to common land turn their cattle out every day in the winter – and all the animals will have to be tested each time they leave their home if the DEFRA proposals are approved.
The threat to the Forest was revealed at the Court of Verderers in Lyndhurst.
Official Verderer Dominic May said: “Some form of testing would have to take place before cattle are depastured or brought back to their holding.
“In some cases that would technically mean a daily test, which is clearly impossible. Such a rule would stop cattle being turned out.”
The Verderers have lobbied DEFRA and highlighted the vital role played by animals that graze the Forest, preventing it becoming a wilderness.
Mr May added: “The Verderers share the grave concern about the spread of TB nationally and very much wish to keep the Forest free of TB.
“We’ve suggested that the proposal be replaced by a licence to move cattle freely.
“DEFRA officers have taken the trouble to come down to the Forest and learn more about our Commoning practices.
“There are many details still to work out and the Verderers will continue to work with DEFRA to reach a practical and effective solution.
“The Forest will change considerably if cattle are not turned out.”
One of the people who could be affected is the former head Agister Brian Ingram, who keeps cattle near his Beaulieu home.
He said: “A great number of Commoners across the Forest will be finished if this goes ahead.”
Bovine TB, which can be transmitted to humans, has resulted in 208,170 cattle being culled since 2008.
A DEFRA spokesman said: “Bovine TB is one of the biggest challenges faced by the cattle farming industry, particularly in the west and south-west.
“The risk to public health is very low, largely due to milk pasteurisation and the early identification of TB in cattle.
“Nevertheless, we need to eradicate bovine TB to support the food and farming industry and reduce the cost to farmers and taxpayers.”