VETERAN New Forest commoner Ralph Hayward is backing claims that a Forestry Commission scheme is putting ponies' lives at risk.

Mr Hayward, chairman of Denny Lodge Parish Council, has joined agister John Booth in condemning the restoration of Forest bogs.

Forestry Commission staff are mending mires by using bales of heather to stop them eroding.

The work is being carried out under the New Forest LIFE project, which aims to improve Special Areas of Conservation within the district. Earlier this month, Mr Booth claimed that the restoration of two areas of bog between Brockenhurst and Rhinefield House was putting ponies at risk.

He warned that pregnant mares were likely to die if they wandered into the bogs and became stuck.

Forestry Commission ecologist Sean Cooch denied there was any danger to ponies, saying the heather bales would take centuries to rot down.

However, Mr Hayward said the parish council supported the comments made by Mr Booth.

He told the Court of Verderers: "It's very dangerous to make sudden changes, such as throwing bales of heather into the bogs to block them up.

"We agree that heather is a tough plant - and it is the durability of the bales which is the dangerous ingredient.

"When they're moved and loosened by the swirl of water, the ponies will put their feet through the bales and become trapped.

"We believe this dangerous interference with nature should be stopped."