A horse riding group has claimed 'rude and abusive' cyclists are damaging a national park.
The New Forest Equestrian Association (NFEA) said that while it wasn't all cyclists causing problems it was receiving lots of reports of 'unsavoury and dangerous' exchanges between horse riders and cyclists.
The New Milton Advertiser and Lymington Times report that 'groups of cyclists travelling at speed' had allegedly been abusive to riders and walkers.
The NFEA said the situation has made serious accidents and narrow escapes 'a common occurrence' but said they thought the issues were based on 'ignorance' rather than 'malice'.
Addressing the Verderers’ Court, the NFEA said it was 'delighted' the verderers had recently approached Forestry England about the substantial increase in cyclists.
The NFEA added: “This has created serious damage to the fabric of the forest and difficulties with other users due to the erosion of paths, and cyclists spooking horses both ridden and de-pastured.
“We have had reports of groups of cyclists travelling at speed, who have become rude and abusive to walkers and riders alike.”
The group also said that 'almost silent' e-bikes allowed riders to cover greater distances at higher speeds which they believe could damage the Forest paths.
However, the group were anxious to stress that the majority of cyclists caused no problems whatsoever and cycling clubs and event organisers were generally very cooperative.
It added: “Poor decisions and bad behaviour is usually the result of ignorance rather than malice.”
The NFEA suggested that anyone hiring a bike should be given a leaflet with codes of practice, and permitted routes should be displayed on car park noticeboards.
It added: “There is no reason why cyclists and horses cannot both enjoy the Forest, but this requires cooperation, and a concerted effort to educate all users before some form of enforcement.”
John Ward, founder of Cycling in the New Forest, said that cycling at 'sensible speeds' helped ensure visitors could all enjoy the national park.
He added: “But, and it is a big but, there are a small but significant and increasing number of cyclists out on the Forest with chunky-tyred mountain bikes and now also e-bikes churning up the fragile habitat far away from designated routes.
“The excuse of ‘I did not know’ or ‘I’m lost’ is pretty poor. When I meet these cyclists, which is too often, and politely try to explain, they are usually local and reply with something like, ‘I know and I don’t care’.
“The occasional summer visitor who really does not know will thank you for telling them and take your directions to the nearest official track.”
The New Forest is one of the largest remaining areas of heathland and forest in Southern England, covering southwest Hampshire and southeast Wiltshire.