Letter: A growing hostile environment for visitors to the New Forest
SIR – Does anyone else get the impression that the administrators of the New Forest would be happiest if none of us ever went there again?
The A&T edition 12th March quoted the Official Verderer, who was insisting visitor numbers to the New Forest must be slashed. Among his swingeing proposals were campsite closures, introduction of Forest car parking charges, and Public Space Protection Orders (a very controversial set of powers that allows you to criminalise antisocial behaviour).
Add in the toilet facility closure at Hatchet Pond, plus further expected toilet closures at Calshot and Barton, and one can see the hostile environment for visitors is growing!
While I have deep sympathy for the work carried out by the stewards of this beautiful place, and understand that their difficult job is going to become more difficult if visitor numbers rise, this stance of growing hostility towards the visiting public really isn’t the way forward.
It is regrettable that some members of the public will misbehave while using the Forest, but this should never be used as an excuse to close down access. Let’s remind ourselves of the reason our national parks exist in the first place: In 1932, the mass trespass onto the Kinder Scout moor in the Peak District saw hundreds of Manchester factory workers march into the countryside, endure beatings from landowners and arrest and imprisonment by the police in order to have their ‘right to roam’ across our nation’s wild spaces recognised as a fundamental human right. They succeeded, due to massive popular support.
This forced a change in the law and the formation of the first national park in the UK. Britain’s breathing spaces, as they proudly became known, are today protected so that everyone can visit and enjoy them.
Access to land in this country is still more restricted than in most other countries in Europe, and now, during times of Covid, people need to be able to get outside and breathe more than ever.
If we actively discourage access to these places, we deny the very principles on which our national parks were originally founded.
All who use the Forest must drive and park sensibly, not litter, keep our pets under control and not disturb or destroy wildlife. And each group of users, be they locals, visitors, dog walkers, livestock owners, horse riders or cyclists, must share the Forest respectfully.
We all have our part to play in this. But if those who look after our protected wild spaces are trying to deter the public from turning up to use them, hasn’t something gone more than a little wrong?