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Conservation survey reveals 'astonishing' level of New Forest bylaw breaches

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FRESH calls have been made for a crackdown on New Forest rule-breaking after a conservation group's survey revealed an "astonishing" level of illegal activities ranging from dogs worrying animals to open fires.

Results of observations by Friends of the New Forest volunteers counted up 2,700 bylaw breaches over six weeks in the autumn, including 50 reports of livestock being chased or attacked by dogs and 150 of animals being fed by the public.

The survey comes amid increased debate about activities in the national park, such as electric bicycles, dog walking, off-track cycling and camping. Increased powers are currently being considered by the district council.

Parking on the verges in the New Forest
Parking on the verges in the New Forest

The survey prompted renewed calls for the authorities to take a tougher line on enforcing bylaws to protect the New Forest.

Friends chair John Ward said the figures were "startling", adding: "The results show current Forest initiatives focussed on educational activities and volunteering alone are insufficient to protect the Forest from harm, and that we urgently require updated bylaws that are appropriately promoted and enforced by the Forest authorities."

Litter and dog mess were "ubiquitous across much of the Forest", the Friends said in a statement, with a combined total of nearly 1,100 such reports, particularly around popular car parks.

There were 550 instances of cyclists away from designated tracks, over 500 of cars parked on verges, and nearly 140 of vehicles blocking access points.

Disposable barbecues are banned in the national park
Disposable barbecues are banned in the national park

Of "particular concern", the Friends said, was the numbers for dogs worrying livestock.

The statement added: "Other infringements recorded on multiple occasions included drone-flying, wild camping, open fires/barbecues, flytipping, and the picking of large quantities of fungi.

"About three-quarters of recorded breaches were on the Crown lands, which cover roughly half of the national park and are managed by Forestry England."

The Commoners Defence Association reacted by saying the breaches were "unacceptable", urging "those who have a statutory responsibility to enforce these local bylaws to act now!"

Official Verderer Lord Manners said it was clear "a seemingly increasing number of members of the public lack any respect for the Forest and regard it as a playground in which they can do whatever they like with no consideration whatsoever for the effect they are having".

Anthony Climpson, chief executive of tourism group Go New Forest, said the results of the survey "shouldn’t surprise anyone who is paying attention".

He said: "As an absolute minimum, managing agencies need to step up and start enforcing the Forest’s bylaws."

Flytipping is rife across the Forest
Flytipping is rife across the Forest

Forestry England and Hampshire police welcomed the report but defended their record.

An FE spokesperson said that "responding to the changing pressures on outdoor spaces requires a long-term solution", and organisations were "actively working together on this".

They pointed out permanent bans on barbecues and fires introduced in 2021 resulted in 40% fewer blazes than in 2020, adding that "throughout the year extra patrols and staff were deployed, and regular joint patrols carried out with the emergency services".

Hampshire Constabulary’s rural policing lead, Insp. Korine Bishop, said it took all reported issues "very seriously", worked closely with partners to conduct routine joint operations across the New Forest and engaged with members of the public on bylaws.

"We take robust action against individuals who we believe have committed offences and regularly promote these results to our local communities through our engagement on social media and with local media," she said, adding people should report offences online or by calling 101.

Steve Avery, national park authority executive director, stressed the 2021 Care For the New Forest, Care For Each Other campaign boosted ranger numbers, saw an 8.6% fall in litter, erected new signs promoting the New Forest Code and recruited 737 volunteer New Forest Ambassadors.

The NPA "recognised" New Forest bylaws need updating, Mr Avery said, adding its long-term partnership plan included a renewed commitment to address illegal use and activities.

Heather Gould, chair of the New Forest Dog Owners Group, shared the Friends' view that owners who do not look after their pet, the environment, or livestock and wild animals, were "behaving irresponsibly", and stressed it worked with partners to promote best practice.

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