More than 100 miles of off-road cycle routes in the New Forest could be axed unless Forestry England acts upon a court’s warning to “toughen up” on what it claims are “out of control” cyclists in the national park.
Forestry England, which manages the New Forest, had been seeking a three-year extension of access to the network of waymarked tracks – including bridleways, gravel tracks and fire roads – from 2021-23, reports the Advertiser & Times.
However, 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 – has only provided a 12-month extension.
The court has told Forestry England that no further extensions will be granted unless it takes steps to stop riders from deviating from the marked paths – with one verderer recently fulminating against “gangs of hardcore bikers determined to ride where they please.”
Forestry England deputy surveyor Bruce Rothnie outlined to a meeting of the Verderers Court last month steps it planned to take to ensure cyclists keep to permitted routes, in response to claims that those who did not were disturbing wildlife and causing environmental damage.
Measures proposed include using its website and social media channels, as well as those of the New Forest National Park Authority, to highlight the need to cycle responsibly, and getting rangers, both on foot and bicycles, to speak to cyclists to make them aware of the issues.
It said it would seek to establish cyclists’ understanding of where they are allowed to ride through getting some riders to fill in questionnaires, as well as engaging with local bike hire shops and cycling organisations.
Mapping will be updated, and there are also plans to improve signage for cyclists in the area.
Those measures do not go far enough for the Verderers Court, which in granting the one-year extension to access warned Forestry England that it needed to “toughen up” the proposals for any future extension to be granted.
The Verderers Court consists of 10 members, five of whom are elected by the 700 or so New Forest commoners – those who occupy land or property that has rights over the Forest.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Forestry Commission, the National Park Authority, and Natural England appoint one member each, while the chair of the court, who carries the title Official Verderer, is appointed by the Queen.
Anthony Pasmore, elected a verderer in 1973 and a commoner for more than 60 years, wrote in a column in the Advertiser & Post earlier this month: “We are not dealing with family parties or small urban children, innocently straying off the permitted routes through a lack of understanding, but with gangs of hardcore bikers determined to ride where they please, disturbing the peace and cutting up the Forest.”
The New Forest’s popularity for recreation and leisure, plus its status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and the common pasturing rights enjoyed by commoners frequently cause tensions, also due to the often conflicting priorities of the various bodies involved.
Cycling is a regular issue of contention, with sportives targeted in the past by saboteurs spreading tacks or removing or changing the direction of signs, and the charity Cycling UK has described local opposition to cycling as “entirely irrational.”
> New Forest defends its record on cycling following unflattering comparison to other national parks
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