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Conservationists blame "anti-social" cyclists for New Forest damage

The New Forest Association (NFA) says it has recorded 550 instances of cyclists riding off designated tracks

A New Forest conservation charity says the national park has been adversely affected by "damaging and illegal activities" and accused off-route cyclists of anti-social behaviour and disturbance of habitats.

The New Forest Association (NFA) is the second oldest conservation organisation in the world and outlines its goal of "protecting, conserving and enhancing the flora, fauna and heritage of the New Forest" since 1867.

Now, it says it has gathered evidence off anti-social behaviour during "stay-cation season" and highlighted problems with off-route cycling, dog mess and feeding livestock.

The NFA said its volunteers recorded more than 2,700 breaches of New Forest bylaws during a six-week period, including 550 instances of cyclists riding off designated tracks.

> Threat to axe New Forest’s off-road cycle network as court criticises “out of control” cyclists

Vice chairman Dr Gale Pettifer said publicity campaigns alone were insufficient to protect the forest from harm.

"The education aspect is there, but there also does need to be the 'stick'," he warned. "Or we just admit it's a free-for-all. The volunteers, rangers and keepers are incredibly passionate about looking after the forest but they do need the tools to enforce the bye-laws."

In addition to off-route cycling, the NFA highlighted 500 cases of cars parked on verges, 150 cases of livestock being fed, 50 reports of livestock being chased or attacked by dogs, as well as litter issues, drone flying and wild camping.

The National Park Authority, the legal body in charge of maintaining national parks, dismissed the severity of the NFA's claims, saying its 'Care for the Forest, Care for Each Other' campaign had led to 10,000 hours of patrols, a BBQ ban, and educational signs which "significantly reduced" verge parking and animal feeding.

Executive director Steve Avery said: "Most people behave responsibly but we recognise that there are a minority who through their thoughtless actions can harm the local landscape and wildlife.

"As a result, we put a joint action plan in place with other New Forest organisations last year to ensure that people don't inadvertently damage the place they have come to enjoy."

Anthony Climpson, chief executive of Go New Forest added: "The clarity of messages was really successful. That's not to be complacent, it's about working very hard to improve the quality of visitor experience and it highlights the need for New Forest organisations to work together."

Last year Forestry England was told to "toughen up" action against "gangs of hardcore bikers"

The Verderers Court – a body dating back to the 13th century which carries out similar functions to a magistrates’ court in relation to certain matters related to the New Forest – told Forestry England its three-year extension of access to the network of waymarked tracks would be dependent on tougher action against "out of control" cyclists.

Dan joined in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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