Friends of the New Forest made a presentment to the Court of Verderers at their meeting on 21st February in order to provide some feedback on findings from this 2022 survey, which ran until the end of August 2022
Presentment to the Court of Verderers – 21st September 2022
The Verderers may be aware that the Friends of the New Forest recently undertook a ‘Byelaws Watch’ survey. This was separated into two elements. The first was a free-ranging survey, which ran between the 25th July until the 31st August 2022; and the second was a fixed-site survey at specific “honey-pot” locations across the Forest, conducted on the August Bank Holiday.
The results of both studies will be published shortly but, in the meantime, I wanted to share a snapshot of some of the breaches reported to us from the initial, free-ranging survey. These demonstrate not only the activities that threaten the special qualities of the New Forest but also reveal some harmful attitudes towards its landscape, commonable livestock, and wildlife.
Around 100 volunteers submitted records to us, and between them they recorded over 5,000 individual incidents that were either breaches of the byelaws or were other activities likely to be harmful to the Forest. The most frequently reported incidents were:
- Ubiquitous dog waste and litter (with over 1,000 individual items recorded for each)
- Widespread cycling off the cycle network (over 700 instances)
- Prevalent petting or feeding of ponies and donkeys
- Uncontrolled verge parking.
Of significant interest, are reports of technologically assisted activities that are now widespread and were either not envisaged when the current Forestry Commission Byelaws became a Statutory Instrument in 1982 or have increased considerably since then not withstanding their prohibition . These include the use of e-bikes, drones, metal detectors, and paragliders. Indeed, the advance of bicycle headlamps in recent years, for instance, has meant that night-time cycling is now much easier than it was back in the 1980s, and consequently night-time cyclists were recorded during our Byelaw Breach Survey.
Other worrying observations were of the use of disposable BBQs and discovery of campfires, which occurred during a period of prolonged and severe drought. High profile media campaigns about the dangers of wildfires are either not cutting through or are simply being ignored. Although not as widespread as other bylaw breaches, every instance that involves a disposable BBQ or campfire on the open Forest represents a potential catastrophe of unimaginable proportions to the landscape, commonable livestock, and wildlife.
Our volunteer recorders also provided a worrying description of activities, behaviours, and attitudes, occurring across the Forest, which included instances of aggression, such as:
- birds, deer, and livestock being chased by out-of-control dogs; and,
- a pony being physically struck because it was stood in the road
It was also worrying 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’
- ‘I won’t get caught’
One unfortunate volunteer even reported to being verbally abused.
(Similar aggressive responses from the owners of dogs that were out-of-control were also recorded.)
Of course, the problem is that most people committing breaches in the byelaws do not accept that they are doing any harm; and because of this they accept no responsibility – particularly if they’ve always done it or seen other people do it.
If we want to change the attitudes of these people, we have to change their behaviours. The Friends of the New Forest would, therefore, encourage that the statutory bodies take further steps to educate the public on the importance of preserving this precious landscape and, importantly, to follow this up with rigorous enforcement of breaches in the byelaws.
While one of the off-track cyclists asserted that the “Forest is big enough for everyone”, we would argue that it is actually an important ecological habitat and heritage landscape under ever increasing pressure, and any steps to safeguard it, including enforcing the byelaws as part of the overall management strategy, are long over-due.
Dr Gale Pettifer – Vice Chair: Friends of the New Forest