A Saturday article in the Daily Telegraph extolling walking in the New Forest and suggesting some Forest honeypots to visit, school half term, a dry, if not sunny, Sunday in October. Which of these was the dominant factor is hard to say but dry days and half term come around fairly regularly in the New Forest without always causing quite so much chaos and harm.
On Sunday, yesterday, I cycled through part of the New Forest, from Lyndhurst via Emery Down to the Bolderwood car park, returning along the Bolderwood and Rhinefield Ornamental Drives to Brockenhurst.
I had hoped to cycle gently along enjoying the Forest landscape in early Autumn colour, perhaps seeing a few pigs on the way – but it was not a happy experience.
All the way along the road from Emery Down there were sporadic groups of a few cars or individual vehicles pulled off the road to park on the Forest beside the road. There were also concentrations of on-Forest parking at Whitemore, the Portuguese fireplace and Millyford Bridge, even though the nearby car park did not seem to be full. I commented on this to my companion because this extent of on-Forest parking is not something we are used to seeing on this road.
At Bolderwood car park itself it was not surprising to find it full, but there was extensive overflow on-Forest parking along the roadside beside the car park and adjoining lawn.
Turning left into the Ornamental Drive was difficult because a camper van was parked on the junction itself followed by an unrelieved string of cars parked on the Forest beside the road from there until the cattlegrid, both damaging the Forest and substantially blocking the road.
From the cattlegrid beside the car park entrance on there were only a few cars pulled off the road, but some determined motorists unable to park alongside the road had turned off and driven into the Forest to park their cars.
Cars had overflowed the Knightwood Oak car park and were parked on the Forest beside the road. After crossing the A35, unfortunately things became even worse. Blackwater car park was a scene of chaotic congestion. The car park was full and cars had been parked on the Forest beside the road nose to tail with no gaps for several 100 yards. I got off my bicycle and walked, but because the parked cars effectively reduced the highway enough to prevent oncoming cars passing each other these motorists were driving off the road to pass and in so doing were destroying a one to two yard strip of the New Forest opposite the parked cars, churning it into a muddy mess.
At none of these spots could I see any sign of a Forestry England or National Park Ranger. They might have been there, but out of my sight, and given their limited resources perhaps to be expected on a Sunday.
There was not a lot of tranquillity, landscape beauty or wildlife, and for me not much ‘well-being’ either – but maybe it was my own fault for venturing near to New Forest honeypot sites on a Sunday.
Is there anything to be done, or are selected areas of the Forest to be written off as visitor concentration areas? When some essential highway works are carried out (such as those currently proposed at Ipley cross roads) there is, quite rightly, an expectation that land lost to the Forest will be compensated by other land being thrown open to the Forest. But there is no redress or compensation for the damage done to the Forest by visitors, particularly with their motor vehicles.
Certainly, the one thing that is clear is that whatever amount ‘information’, and ‘education’ is produced it will always be overwhelmed by the power of some burst of “Go to the New Forest’ publicity in the national media.