DRIVERS are being urged to stick to official diversion routes during the closure of busy New Forest roads.

Part of the A35 Lyndhurst to Christchurch route has shut until April to enable work to proceed on a multi-million-pound project to replace a bridge at Holmsley.

And overnight closures are taking place this weekend on the other major route across Forest - the A31.

Campaigners fear drivers affected by the two schemes will take to unfenced roads in the district, resulting in a spike in animal accidents.

The National Park Authority’s executive director, Steve Avery, said: ‘If you do travel on unfenced roads, please take extra care and always be prepared to stop for New Forest animals.

"Animals don't have any road sense so may step out in front of you even if you think they've seen you.

"Don’t overtake unless you can clearly see the road ahead and any animals which may be grazing on the verges.

"Driving to the road and weather conditions is just as important as keeping within the speed limit."

Mr Avery said icy conditions affected stopping distances and also resulted in animals licking freshly-laid salt on roads.

He added: "Low light in winter, dazzling headlights and bad weather can make visibility extremely poor and may impede your view of the road ahead."

The NPA has issued the following advice to motorists:

Be ready to stop – animals can step out even when they have seen you approaching.

Drive slowly, especially in the dark. There is a pool of darkness behind the headlights of approaching cars and an animal may be either standing in it or crossing the road.

Give animals grazing by the side of the road a wide berth and be prepared to stop if there is on-coming traffic.

Grazing animals may cross to join their friends. One animal by the roadside means there are others close by.

Bends and the tops of hills need more care – animals may be standing in the road just out of sight.

Reflective collars worn by some ponies may help you see them in the dark – but not all ponies have them.

Deer can easily jump the fences alongside roads such as the A337, A31 and A35 – and when there is one deer more will usually follow.