AN ENDANGERED pony has died at Danebury Hill Fort after being frightened by rockets set off in the area over the weekend.

The Exmoor mare was one of a herd of five of the rare breed kept by Juliet Burnet on the nature reserve, which are semi-feral and intended to graze the land for conservation purposes.

Juliet said that occasions when fireworks are likely to be set off cause a lot of stress for her and the animals, but that on this occasion it was a case of explosives being illegally sety off close to livestock, which caused one of her ponies to run in fright, and fall to her death.

Juliet, from Nether Wallop, told the Advertiser: “We have had quite a lot of trouble with anti-social behaviour there recently. But that was the worst weekend of fireworks, I have never known it so bad.”

The 56-year-old, who works as the caretaker at Wherwell Primary School, said that when she visited the horses on Saturday morning, following an organised display on Friday night in nearby Middle Wallop, she could see that they had a “terrible night”.

Leaving her herd, she said she hoped the worst had been and gone.

“What you do is you go to bed, and you keep your fingers crossed!” she said.

However, when she arrived on Sunday morning, she could see an empty box of rockets, a lighter, and other fireworks debris.

“I straight away clocked that there were only four ponies. I actually lost it. I rang my son and he came round.”

Sadly, Juliet’s son found the youngest of the herd, 14-year-old mare, Knightoncombe Ghost Swift, who had fallen into the middle of the ring, likely caused by running in fear.

Exmoor ponies are very rare, with Juliet saying “there are only about 3,000 in the world.”

She added: “To lose a mare in that way is absolutely appalling, I was absolutely beside myself. The public love them up there, and it educates them about one of our really rarest breeds. People are very lucky to see them, because it’s very rare to see an Exmoor out of Exmoor!

“Those rockets they let off were TNT rockets. Can you imagine? It’s the noise and the flashing in the sky. It must have been absolutely terrifying. And to do that on what is a nature reserve is diabolical.”

Paying tribute to the pony, Juliet said: “She was a sassy mare with attitude. She was in the prime of her life, they can live to 30 out in the moor. She didn’t deserve to die.

“The four remaining [ponies] were very upset.”

Part of the area, which is open to the public to enjoy, was closed while the pony was taken away.

“They had to clear the pathway, it was quite a difficult retrieval,” said Juliet.

“I was down at the entrance, asking people if they could only walk in the left-hand field. People were really good, but one guy was horrible to me!”

Juliet explained that fireworks are always a concern for her, but that organised displays can be prepared for.

She said: “I don’t like fireworks, but I do think that organised displays are fine. I don’t want to spoil people’s fun, but I can’t prepare if I don’t know about them.

“This business of letting off random explosives is not on.”

Juliet fought for two years to be allowed to introduce the ponies to the land, which is owned by Hampshire County Council. But since the incident she has moved one of them to her own field in Wherwell, and hopes to soon relocate the other three as well.

Police were called to the scene on Sunday 7 November following reports of anti-social behaviour in the Longstock Park area.

A spokesperson for Hampshire Constabulary told the Advertiser that a member of the public reported fireworks which had been let off close to Danebury Hill Fort – which occupied a number of ponies - between 7pm on Saturday, November 6 and 3am on Sunday, November 7.

As a result of the incident, officers investigating believe that one of the ponies had been “spooked” and was later found deceased in the immediate area.

A Hampshire County Council spokesperson said: "We were extremely saddened to learn of the death of a horse last weekend at Danebury Hill Fort. We have been in contact with the horse’s owner and offered her our support."

CountryWatch Police Constable, Nicholas Atkins, said: “We are fully aware of the issues surrounding wild animals and fireworks at this time of the year, especially in rural areas, and sadly this is an incident which could have been avoided.

“We appreciate that those who were responsible may have not known that ponies were nearby but this is a stark reminder for those to be aware of their surroundings – especially late at night. As a direct consequence, an animal has needlessly lost their life.

“If anyone who has any information which could aid our enquiries is asked to call 101, quoting 44210446761.”