'THE public treat the New Forest as a playground in which they can do whatever they like'. That's the message from one of the New Forest's oldest organisations following a survey highlighting the high numbers of 'damaging and illegal activities' in the national park.

The Friends of the New Forest ran a survey over six weeks in autumn 2021 aimed at raising awareness of Forest by-laws.

It revealed :

  • 1,100 reports of litter and dog mess
  • 550 reports of cyclists away from designated tracks
  • More than 500 reports of cars parked on open forest verges away from car parks
  • 50 reports of livestock being chased and/or attacked by dogs
  • 150 reports of livestock being fed by the public
  • 140 reports of cars blocking access to the open forest

There were also multiple reports of drone flying, wild camping, open fires and barbecues, fly-tipping, 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.

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However, a Freedom of Information request to Forestry England by FoNF confirmed that there have been no formal investigations or prosecutions of by-law breaches since at least 2015.

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Chairman John Ward said: "We are grateful to everyone who contributed data to this initiative.

"The results are startling and show that current forest initiatives focussed on educational activities and volunteering alone are insufficient to protect the forest from harm, and that we urgently require updated by-laws that are appropriately promoted and enforced by the forest authorities.”

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A spokesperson for the Verderers said: "The Verderers welcome the survey which evidences the concerns that we have often expressed about the impact of damaging and illegal activities on the Forest.

"For many years, the Verderers have been urging Forestry England to enforce its by-laws as they have watched the quickening decline in Forest habitats and the unacceptable increased pressures on commoning.

"Whilst many people act responsibly and cause few, if any problems, 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 on this internationally important area.

Bournemouth Echo: Picture by Lorraine RussellPicture by Lorraine Russell

"The public's interaction with the commoners' animals is of particular concern to the Verderers. From animals being chased and sometimes badly, if not fatally injured by out-of-control dogs, to members of the public feeding and petting the animals, sometimes resulting in people being injured as animals learn to demand food or in some cases, just try to dissuade the person from interfering with them.

"When an animal injures a person, it is removed from the Forest permanently and its future is very uncertain.

The Verderers also have frequently expressed concern about damage to grazing resulting from cyclists riding off the waymarked cycle network, verge parking and blocked accesses which make managing the animals at times extremely difficult if not impossible.

"The Verderers welcome the pleasure and benefits that the Forest gives to its many visitors and just want people to treat the Forest with respect and not destroy the very thing they come to enjoy. The Verderers will continue to lobby Forestry England to deal robustly with those who don't comply with its by-laws, which are there to protect the Forest."