Organisers of a New Forest pony round-up say they have been forced to cancel a 'drift' - essential maintenance of the semi-wild pony stock - due to a mass participation cycling event.
The Wiggle New Forest 100 Sportive, organised by UK Cycle Events, today saw up to 3,000 cyclists descend on the area, meant that the New Forest Verderers made the decision to cancel the drift on safety grounds.
According to the Forestry Commission: "round-ups, or ‘drifts’ are held throughout the forest by the Agisters to treat any health problems the ponies and cattle may have, and to keep a count of the stock roaming the Open Forest. Mares and foals are marked during this time – foals are branded and the tails of mares are cut in distinctive patterns – enabling the Agisters to see that the grazing fees have been paid and to indicate in which area their owner lives."
The Verderers have urged members of the public to avoid certain parts of the forest on the days of planned drifts.
A spokesman for the Commoners' Defence Association told the Bournemouth Echo: “Faced with the determination of UK Cycle Events and the New Forest Show Society that the cycle event should go ahead, the Verderers had no alternative but to act responsibly and cancel the drift to avoid the obvious risk if both events were to go ahead.
“Drifts are planned at least a year in advance and always include Sundays to minimise disruption to both residents and commoners' jobs.”
Martin Barden of UK Cycling Events said that due notice had been given of the event, which was planned last year.
He said: “Despite offers of altering our event and working with the drift to ensure it was safe and could continue, the Verderers have made the decision to move it to another day.”
“We hope that with better communication from the Verderers, future clashes can be avoided.”
CDA chairman Dr Graham Ferris said: “Commoners are angry and appalled that a commercially-motivated event should take precedence over drifts, which have been part of the cultural heritage of the Forest since time immemorial.
“Drifts are vital for our members to manage their livestock, which have shaped and maintained the unique landscape of the New Forest.
“We fully respect the responsible decision taken by the Verderers but believe that organisers of mass events in the Forest should take adequate steps to prevent clashes of this kind.”
The row is the latest in a series of clashes between cyclists and New Forest residents.
The Wiggle New Forest Spring Sportive was subject to sabotage, with in excess of 1,000 signs vandalised, drawing pins scattered on the road and motorists driving slowly to form a kind of rolling road block, reports the Southern Daily Echo. The event has been the subject of vociferous opposition from some locals.
Huge fields of riders taking part in organised sportives in the New Forest scare horses and should be limited, the New Forest Equestrian Association previously said.
Dr Tony Hockley from the Association told the Daily Mail: "The concept of sportive events is totally new.
"The biggest problem is speed and volume. When you have 5,000 people riding against the clock they aren’t going to slow down for horses on the road.
"We have always had cyclists and races in the New Forest but with the numbers of them involved now it is a constant stream of bikes racing that goes on all day."