Clubs fear fresh restrictions on activities in the New Forest
NEW Forest activity groups have raised fears about their operations being severely
affected by fresh restrictions under consideration to protect wildlife.
Among them is the district’s cycling club which has been riding locally for over 80 years and claims it has been told by Forestry England (FE) that it cannot use any of its 130 car parks next year for regular events.
The alleged ban comes as concern grows among other organisations over the implications of a requirement to protect wildlife habitats including those of ground-nesting birds.
Kelvin Pinchem, secretary of the New Forest Cycling Club, said he was “shocked” when the FE told him it would not be giving it a permit for any of the car parks next year.
He said: “We are now facing a huge struggle to try to find other sites. We were told that the decision had been taken to protect wildlife habitats and prevent people parking on the verges. But our club only attracts about seven to eight cars in total.
“We need to find the sites soon as we have to give the police their locations months in advance of races.”
The 300-strong Beaulieu Model Flying Club said had been told it will be able to fly planes only during the winter months – which a spokesperson branded “completely useless”.
He added: “We need fine weather and good visibility, none of which you get in the winter. We have always been very careful about not going near any wildlife.
“We have been told that other organisations will also face similar restrictions on using the heath and the New Forest.
“We feel the FE are being very high-handed in the way they are dealing with clubs like ours.”
It has been flying there for 50 years and pays a £1,000 annual licence.
Chair of the New Forest Dog Owners Group, Heather Gould, said it had heard “rumours” of changes in the way organisations will be allowed to use the Forest, specifically at Beaulieu.
She said: “We have asked the FE for information, not least because it is so close to Hatchet Pond where the car park is closing and moving, and the toilets being taken away.
“So far we’ve not had a response. Of course, some car parks close for short periods of maintenance or to protect ground-nesting birds. That’s completely reasonable.
“We do need to keep an eye on this – many people have a perception of continual and creeping closures and restrictions.”
A spokesperson for FE did not deny the claims made by the groups but said it had a “legal requirement” to protect key habitats in the Forest which is set out in the Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA) and is due for renewal next year.
She said: “Some months ago, it became clear that the next HRA would need to address changes and a strengthening of the law in this area.
“It also needs to adapt to changes in the timetable for ground-nesting birds who, due to climate change, are beginning breeding earlier in the year.
“At this point we began discussing the implications of this with local groups who have permissions for activities. We have also requested an extension from Natural England to agree the new HRA in order to give these groups time to adapt and for us to work on alternative options with them.
“Forestry England, as the land manager, has to find a way to meet the legal requirements to protect this precious habitat whilst at the same time trying to support the activities of local community groups.
“This is a difficult balancing act and we are working hard with local groups to support them and find a suitable solution. All parties have a common goal to protect the special features of the New Forest and avoid endangering rare wildlife and habitats.”