|This month’s announcements about cycling responds to a few of the preliminary observations from this year’s Byelaw Watch shared in the September Court by our Vice Chair, Gale Pettifer.|
At our last court the New Forest Association reported from its byelaw watch over 700 instances of cycling off the way marked routes in a period between 25th July and 31st August this year.
Regrettably this came as no surprise. The Verderers have over many years expressed to Forestry England their concerns about the ever increasing amount of cyclists who regularly trespass off the approved cycle routes. In recent months we have expressed those concerns both to the Deputy Surveyor and his team and direct to the Chair of Forestry England, providing information about the scale of the issue and its consequences. The result of the New Forest Association’s recent byelaw watch, emphatically reinforces what has been said by the Verderers to Forestry England many times. This is an issue which can no longer be treated by Forestry England as a low priority.
In commenting on this it is all too easy to characterise the Verderers as anti-cycling. That is emphatically not the case. The Verderers are very well aware of the many benefits of cycling and support the existence of the Cycle network. I am not the only Verderer who makes use of the network from time to time.
It is therefore a good time to set out the Verderers’ position in relation to cycling off the approved cycle routes.
Cycling on the Forest is prohibited by Forestry England byelaws (byelaw 6). This is to be contrasted with the position of those on foot who have access to the Forest by right as do horse riders. The grazing stock is also there by right and delivers enormous conservation benefits. The grazing stock has shaped and continues to maintain the Forest’s mosaic of rare, interesting and important habitats.
The Forest of course provides excellent recreational opportunities. However it is also a working forest and an area of remarkable conservation importance and rarity designated as a SAC (Special Area of Conservation) and SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). Critically it still retains strong elements of a wilderness with areas where both nature and the stock are left largely undisturbed.
In 2015 a study resulted in the drafting of a map, identifying the level of disturbance across the Forest. The Forest was divided into 5 zones. Zone E was the most tranquil, where there were no well-used cycle tracks and no moderate passive recreation. Zone D in which there were no camp sites and there was no intensive passive recreation. Zone C had no all-year campsites greater than 150 pitches. Zones B and A were the least tranquil. The Tranquil Areas map has been used to reduce and where possible eliminate, disturbance from activities, including organised recreational activities which would significantly impact nature conservation in those sensitive areas.
However, the advent of the mountain bike and now electrically assisted bicycle means that it is ever easier to access vast areas of the Forest. They have contributed to the significant increase in the number of cyclists all over the Forest. Headlamps now throw a beam many metres ahead which can be seen from far away; these facilitate more and more night time cycling, apparently regardless of the impact on nocturnal animals. Tyres often incise into the soft ground, contributing to erosion and as one track becomes impassable another is created. As more and more houses are built within easy driving distance of the Forest the recreational pressure, including cycling, will only increase.
The Verderers recognise that different types of route cater for different cyclists. Some wish to travel from A to B. Others wish to use a circular route returning usually to the car park from where they started. The Verderers do not rule out participating in a review of the Cycle network but such a review must be against the backdrop of control of illegal off route cycling. In any such review preservation of the tranquil and undisturbed areas, links to the car parks, the interests of nature conservation and protection of the fragile environment together with the interest of the commoners must be taken into account as well as the interests of those who wish to use the Forest for recreation.
The issue of concern is not that of the cyclist who gets lost, or the family who inadvertently strays from the network. The issue is those who persistently flout the byelaw. Dog owners whose dogs harass or attack stock are dealt with by the police as are those who drive motor vehicles over the Forest without permission. The Verderers ensure that the commoners comply with our byelaws. Forestry England must ensure that its byelaws are policed and enforced. That is the only right and proper course and it is in the best interests of the Forest.
The Verderers therefore call upon Forestry England to take the following actions: –
- Acknowledge that off route cycling is widespread.
- Ensure that both the free maps and paid for cycle maps are fit for purpose so that cyclists can easily identify and follow the approved route.
- Sign each and every carpark under its control so that the public is clearly informed as to whether or not cycling is permitted and possible from that car park.
- Ensure that online mapping records the approved cycle network and unapproved routes are removed.
- Review and if necessary, improve the physical way marking of the approved routes.
- State publicly, including in this forum, firstly what its policy is in relation to enforcement of its byelaws, and secondly that it will prosecute persistent offenders.
|Announcements shared with kind permission of the Verderers.
This month’s other announcements regarding Dogs, Brambles, Fees & New Verderers are on this link.
In November 2017 we made a presentment stating our concerns and objections to a medium sized night time cycling recreation event which was sponsored by a head lamp manufacturer. We were concerned about the effect on wildlife and livestock by the unprecedented size of the nighttime event, which had not been notified to Natural England, and the promotion of particularly bright lamps (some equal to car headlights) for use on protected habitats.
Collage by Brian Tarnoff.