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Forestry England to review New Forest signs to stop cyclists riding on unmarked routes

FORESTRY England has pledged to undertake a review of signage across the national park following reports of hundreds of cyclists failing to stick to the waymarked routes.

Cyclists are permitted to use a network of more than 100 miles of designated tracks across the New Forest. But environmental watchdog group Friends of the New Forest claims a recent survey into bylaw breaches revealed more than 700 incidents of bikes straying off permitted paths.

The issue was highlighted in the A&T last month when a walker claimed to have been attacked by a cyclist he had confronted about unlawfully riding on the open Forest.

Cyclists are permitted to use a network of more than 100 miles of designated tracks across the New Forest
Cyclists are permitted to use a network of more than 100 miles of designated tracks across the New Forest

The 60-year-old man said he was left with cuts and grazes after he challenged the cyclist over his use of a narrow, off-track path, when a clearly marked cycle route was at hand just 100 yards away near Hampton Ridge at Fordingbridge.

Now Forestry England has said it will look into providing more “effective” signage of its waymarked network of tracks.

The issue was raised by the verderers in July following an admittance by Forestry England’s deputy surveyor Craig Harrison that a number of no-cycling signs were removed from forest car parks when the organisation underwent a rebrand in 2019. The verderers formally requested these signs be reinstated.

Friends of the New Forest say its Forest-wide Bylaws Watch survey, undertaken by volunteers over the summer, revealed 700 incidents in which cyclists were seen using banned routes.

Speaking at the Verderers’ Court in September, the charity’s vice-chair Dr Gale Pettifer said: “It was worrying also to discover that some volunteers who attempted to engage with cyclists they met off the cycle network were, at best, simply ignored, while others experienced hostile responses such as ‘the Forest is big enough for everyone’, ‘I’ve lived here all my life’ and ‘I won’t get caught’.

“One unfortunate volunteer even reported being verbally abused.”

It was suggested that many of the breaches occurred because people did not think they were doing anything wrong. Calling for better enforcement of the bylaws as part of an overall management strategy for the Forest, Dr Pettifer added: “If we want to change the behaviours of these people, we have to change their attitudes.”

However, Christchurch Bicycle Club chairman David Orme said there was no evidence that cycling, whether on or off track, was causing any significant erosion or disturbance to animals.

He continued: “Whilst the current waymarked cycle tracks in the Forest could do with better signage, there are more important aspects to consider. Firstly, the existing ‘permitted’ cycle ‘network’ is wholly inadequate: it is not joined up, it doesn’t work as a network connecting centres of habitation, there are few safe crossing points of major roads (none for the A35) and it’s not logical as to which tracks are allowed or why.”

Mr Orme added: “There are many miles of gravel tracks, used by motorised vehicles (FE and land owners) and also ancient rights of way which are not ‘permitted’. These points are acknowledged by the NPA and Forestry England.”

A spokesperson for Forestry England said: “We value local stakeholders’ opinions on this and are looking at how we can add to this and the best way to provide additional information and effective signage of our waymarked network of tracks.

“There are over 100 miles of waymarked cycle routes in the New Forest. Information about these is shared directly on our website, and in a cycle map available at key information points and cycle hire destinations right across the area.”

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