FORESTRY England has been granted a year’s extension to keep open approved New Forest cycle routes after the verderers demanded increased efforts to tackle “out of control” cycling.
FE, which had requested three years, said part of the action plan presented to verderers during negotiations would involve recruiting volunteers and engaging cycle hire shops.
The verderers warned that any further extension beyond the 12 months would require FE to “toughen up” its ideas on the issue.
As reported in the A&T, before agreeing to any extension the verderers demanded further details on how Forestry England will tackle off-track cycling amid claims it is disturbing wildlife and damaging habitats.
During the December meeting of the Verderers’ Court, FE Deputy Surveyor Bruce Rothnie outlined an action plan to “mitigate” and “manage” the impact on the New Forest.
It includes communicating messages about responsible cycling on the national park authority and Forestry England websites and through targeted social media posts.
He said both NPA and Forestry England rangers would continue to patrol on foot and bicycles to engage with cyclists, asking them to stick to permitted routes, and explaining why off-track cycling is damaging to the environment.
Some cyclists would also be asked to complete questionnaires to gauge their understanding of where cycling is permitted.
Mr Rothnie continued that Forestry England will also work with cycle hire shops and local cycling organisations to encourage responsible riding.
He revealed that by using GPS and other data, targeted ranger patrols will be planned at hotspots for off-track cycling.
This information will enable Forestry England to fully assess any damage to the environment, leading to potential additional signage where necessary.
Cycling network maps will also be updated this year and information will be included in the New Forest Essential Guide publication.
It emerged Forestry England also hopes in future to increase the use of staff and volunteers to help manage cycling and improve signage in key locations, such as car parks.
However, the plans for managing cycling were described as “feeble” by Verderers’ Court member Anthony Pasmore, writing in his New Forest Notes column in the A&T last week.
He said: “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.”
Following a debate, the verderers agreed to a one-year extension to the waymarked cycle network.
They warned Forestry England it would need to “toughen up” its ideas on tackling the problem before a further extension was agreed.