A CONSERVATION group has ramped up the pressure on New Forest policy makers to do more to control recreation after a surge in activity.
The Friends of the New Forest is calling on organisations responsible for managing the national park to provide alternative recreational facilities and properly enforce laws and bylaws.
The group says there have been issues around people paddleboarding in wildlife ponds, electric bikes racing through areas of the Forest barred to pedal cyclists, and red deer being disturbed by “large numbers of photographers”.
Gale Pettifer, vice-chairman of the organisation, said the Forest was being “nibbled away in front of our eyes”.
“We are seeing more and more verge parking and people driving onto the Forest,” she said.
“It’s getting out of hand.
“If people want to kick a ball around they can do that anywhere. If they want to go tearing around on a bike, then the Forest is not the best place for that – there ought to be alternative provision made.
“Of course, before [Covid] people would have gone to leisure centres or taken part in activities through clubs, but they can’t do that anymore.
“If we continue to promote the New Forest as a tourist destination then we will tip the balance, and the Forest we see today will no longer exist.”
Mrs Pettifer said better enforcement was needed on the ground to stop harmful or illegal activity, such as feeding ponies or wild camping.
A report published by the group also raises the issue of dogs off leads disturbing ground nesting birds, and Mrs Pettifer claimed commercial dog walking had got “out of hand”.
Dogs, runners, walkers, electric bikes and motorised paragliders were all said by the volunteers to have scared adult birds away from the nest – called flushing – leaving the chicks open to attack. Particular hotspots listed were White Moor and Longwater Lawn near Lyndhurst, Hatchet Pond, and two areas of Beaulieu Heath.
David Bennet, spokesperson for New Forest Dog Owners Group, praised the report and said he did not consider it to be “anti-dog”.
“We share the aims of the report and want responsible dog walking,” he said. “And our campaigns are geared to that.
“Of the six specific incidents of disturbance to birds listed in the report, only two involved dogs, but we would share the view that any case is a case too many.”
Co-author of the report was Russell Wynn, director of Wild New Forest and a Professor of Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton. He told the A&T there had been a huge upsurge in activity in the Forest post-lockdown.
“I guess people want to get out and about and away from the current problems, which is great,” he said. “So we need to make sure, for instance, that in the future parking is in locations that are more suited to visitors – the car is king in terms of controlling where people go.”
Mr Wynn also said ground nesting birds had responded very well, in terms of breeding, to car park closures.
The group hopes the report will be taken into consideration in the ongoing development of the national park authority’s new Partnership Plan, which includes actions to mitigate recreational impacts.
Some that are under consideration include the distribution of parking, more joined-up cycle networks and more rangers, keepers and volunteers out educating the public.
There will no longer be a standalone recreational management strategy (RMS), which was being drawn up jointly by the NPA, New Forest District Council, Hampshire County Council, the Forestry Commission, the verderers, and Natural England.
The RMS will be included in the Partnership Plan, which will be published in draft form later this year.
An NPA spokesperson said there had been a number of new recreational campaigns over the summer, some of which were fast-tracked in response to the sharp increase in activity, such as banning disposable barbecues.
Jim Mitchell, the NPA’s interpretation and outreach manager, welcomed the report and said: “This information will continue to be used by Forest organisations and the recreation management steering group to help manage recreation into the future.”