Horse riders want action over ‘rude and abusive’ New Forest cyclists
A HORSE riding group has called for action to tackle “rude and abusive” cyclists who are accused of damaging the New Forest.
The New Forest Equestrian Association (NFEA) said that while it was “anxious” not to tar all cyclists with the same brush, it has received more frequent reports of “unsavoury and dangerous exchanges” between horse riders and cyclists.
They said the situation has made serious accidents and narrow escapes “a common occurrence”.
In a presentment to the Verderers’ Court, the NFEA said it was “delighted” the verderers had recently approached Forestry England about the substantial increase in cyclists using the Forest both on and off the permitted tracks.
The NFEA claimed problems had escalated in the pandemic, continuing: “This has created serious damage to the fabric of the forest and difficulties with other users due to the erosion of paths, and cyclists spooking horses both ridden and de-pastured.
“We have had reports of groups of cyclists travelling at speed, who have become rude and abusive to walkers and riders alike.”
The group claimed “almost silent” electric bikes allowed users to cover greater distances at higher speeds, while mountain bikers would seek out wet ground and unstable surfaces for the “full outdoor experience” leading to further damage.
However, the group pointed out that many cyclists do follow the rules and cycling clubs and event organisers were generally very cooperative. It added: “Poor decisions and bad behaviour is usually the result of ignorance rather than malice.”
The NFEA suggested that anyone hiring a bike should be given a leaflet with codes of practice, and permitted routes should be displayed on car park noticeboards.
It added: “There is no reason why cyclists and horses cannot both enjoy the Forest, but this requires cooperation, and a concerted effort to educate all users before some form of enforcement.”
John Ward, founder of Cycling in the New Forest, said that cycling at “sensible speeds” helped ensure Forest visitors could all enjoy the national park.
He added: “ But, and it is a big but, there are a small but significant and increasing number of cyclists out on the Forest with chunky-tyred mountain bikes and now also e-bikes churning up the fragile habitat far away from designated routes.
“The excuse of ‘I did not know’ or ‘I’m lost’ is pretty poor. When I meet these cyclists, which is too often, and politely try to explain, they are usually local and reply with something like, ‘I know and I don’t care’.
“The occasional summer visitor who really does not know will thank you for telling them and take your directions to the nearest official track.”
Mr Ward called on organisations such a Cycling UK to do more to spread the message about do’s and don’ts with animals and the fragile landscape, when encouraging cyclists to visit the Forest.