Reader's Rant

Launched by the Friends of the New Forest, the Byelaw Watch has found that during a six-week period, there were more than 2,700 breaches recorded, of which 550 were reports of cyclists away from designated tracks.

Here is one New Forest resident’s thoughts:

“National Parks were established in 1949 to foster the well-being of local communities. As times change, so do the nation’s needs and how parks are used. And, in a densely populated country, there are pressures to balance access and preservation. Hence, people accept restrictions, if there is a clear, scientifically proven case and the rules apply to everyone.

The New Forest National Park has a second body, the Verderers, who create byelaws without Park Authority approval and without scientific proof of the case for such laws or considering the needs of the community. An example is the restriction of cycling to a small number of unconnected tracks that do not form a network or provide safe routes to ride between villages. In contrast to this, horse riders may go anywhere and even indulge in large scale races.

The Verderers and some horse riders say cycling damages the landscape but fail to provide scientific proof. There have been many studies of the effects of different activities, with Natural England’s report providing a comprehensive analysis. This includes details on how horse-riding damages the landscape and highlights that a shod horse and rider exert 2.5 times as much pressure as a four-wheel-drive Toyota with four people and gear. Not surprisingly, it states: “The impacts to tracks caused by horse-riding may therefore far exceed other users such as cyclists …”

USA studies concluded: “… wildlife exhibited statistically similar responses to mountain biking and hiking. While Taylor and Knight found no biological justification for managing mountain biking any differently than hiking …” and that “Sheep fled 61 percent of the time from hikers … and six percent of the time from mountain bikers.”  

Other studies showed: “The reduction in cover of grassland vegetation caused by mountain bikes is estimated to be half than that caused by horse riders.”

Given the health and obesity crisis we face, it is critical the nation’s parks are available to all, and “Landscapes that cater for and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing”.   Rather than punish cyclists, we should encourage cycling as a healthy, environmentally friendly activity that is scientifically proven to be significantly less damaging than horse riding.

In the Forest of Dean, Forestry England achieve a balance between access for all and preservation, encouraging cycling both on and off official trails, yet protecting the most sensitive areas. If the New Forest were managed like this, it would benefit the wellbeing of the wider community and not discriminate in favour of one minority interest.

The baseless, discriminatory, anti-cycling byelaws should be abolished NOW!”

Other breaches during the same six-week period included 1100 reports of litter and dog mess, more than 500 cars parked on open forest verges away from car parks, 50 incidents of livestock being fed by the public and 140 reports of cars blocking access to the open forest.

Multiple reports of drone flying, wild camping, open fires/BBQs, fly tipping and the picking of large quantities of fungi.

What do YOU think? Have your say and comment.

12 Comments

  1. Your reader seems rather misinformed as they state that the Verderers create byelaws without Park Authority approval. This is actually incorrect, as the byelaws that are in place in The New Forest are actually rules established by Forestry England (formerly known as The Forestry Commission). Your reader says that The New Forest National Park has a second body, implying that the Verderers are secondary to The National Park Authority. I think you will find that the Verderers were in place long before any National Park Authority came to The New Forest, and it is probably down to the rulings of The Verderers Court that the unique and special place that we know as The New Forest still exists for us all to enjoy.
    The New Forest is a very complex place with many bodies involved in the decisions that affect this site of special scientific interest. There are also many reasons that it is not a place where the public can simply do as they please. There are commoners’ animals roaming free who have a right to a quiet life and the commoners have a right to turn them loose to live out there. There is wildlife out there that is protected by law and there are plants that are extremely rare and special. Visitors should respect the New Forest and all the wonderful things they can see there. An experience that is not available anywhere else in the world.
    The New Forest has some brilliant tracks for cycling and I hope that many cyclists enjoy their time in the countryside. I doubt, however that cycling is going to be the answer to the obesity crisis. This seems a very simplistic view and having watched the first part of a programme on television by Dr Michael Moseley called ‘Who made Britain Fat’, I think there are many choices to be made by anyone affected by obesity, it is not simply a matter of exercise.
    It seems that your reader feels the byelaws are baseless & discriminatory and that they should be abolished but, in my opinion, it is these very laws that have protected The New Forest and kept it as the amazing, unique landscape that we should all respect and enjoy so I don’t want then abolished I want them enforced.

  2. I found the article by the New Forest resident very interesting and i agree with many of the points raised.
    I moved to the New Forest recently from Surrey where i was surrounded by National Trust land that was linked up both locally and to the south downs so i could cycle off road almost indefinitely.
    I was really looking forward to the mountain biking opportunities in the New Forest but have been disappointed as the rules do not allow me to participate in this great outdoors lifestyle the way i had hoped.
    I do not see why the cyclists should be treated so differently in the New Forest to say the South Downs National Park. The animals (apart from dogs) seem to ignore cyclists, we are not smashing through planted areas, we courteously give pedestrians a wide berth and keep away from areas where there are notices warning of special breeds nesting.
    Mountain bikers can be considerate too!
    As for my weight, yes it has gone up (for the first time in my life) since moving here, and yes, if the rules were different i would indeed cycle more in the forest, but i cant really apportion this fully on the local ‘out dated’ cycle rules….
    Please do reconsider the rules to allow more people enjoy the great outdoor areas on offer.

  3. There is no scientific or independently evidenced basis whatsoever for the current entirely unnecessary restrictions upon cyclists in regards to which gravel tracks they may or may not utilise in the New Forest. It is plainly illogical to prohibit cyclists from gravel roads which are frequented by far more damaging horse riders and even motor vehicles! There is a very good reason this particular byelaw has NEVER been enforced or prosecuted and that is because those in authority at the Verderers know full well that it would fail any proper legal test when put before a court. Long overdue change is frankly inevitable no matter how hard the feudal relic of the Verderers court might dig their undemocratic heels in.

  4. Dear Sirs

    I am only a very occasional cyclist so I have no serious axe to grind, but it has always seemed absurd to me that cycling is to all intents and purposes banned in the New Forest.

    The Park’s boast of “about 100 miles of designated tracks”, not even forming a proper network and barely enough for a cyclist’s weekend, is pathetic for an area of the size of our Forest, which could easily offer a thousand miles or more of viable routes, to be devised by cyclists themselves.

    The general anti-cycling attitude of the authorities, and the attempt to suppress the use of Bridleways (on which cyclists have equal legal right with horse riders) by signage such as “No Forest Cycling from this Car Park” (even in places like Fritham where there are both permitted tracks and a notable Bridleway) has always seemed partisan and disreputable.

    All of this is ironic in view of the obvious damage done throughout the New Forest by horses, bridled or unbridled, ridden or not, which are allowed to roam at will. Walkers and runners all learn to avoid areas which are unusable owing to horse damage or simply to seasonally difficult ground conditions, and surely cyclists would learn to do the same.

    Of course we expect cyclists to be polite to, and careful of, other humans (which sometimes they are not) as well as domestic animals and wildlife, but surely we can in turn give cyclists more reasonable freedom than the byelaws currently allow.

    I would say something similar about gathering fungi for private use, currently threateningly discouraged without (as I understand it) any legitimate basis for discouragement or threats. One could go on … good luck to “Byelaw Watch”!

    But if you can stop drones before they become so prevalent that they buzz us insane, more power to the authorities’ elbow! There now, we all have our red lines, but doubtless we all vary. I hope to continue to walk and run anywhere I please in the Forest for as long as I can.

  5. I am amazed that your magazine printed such biased rubbish! The New Forest is a working forest managed by the verderers and overseen by the Commoners whose animals graze and create the forest. It is not and never will be a playground for those who are unable to abide by the rules of the governing body whose remit is the preservation of the forest for present and future generations
    As for the rights of cyclist to ride roughshod over the forest in general this should never be allowed as their tyres cause more damage than any horse shod or otherwise. Horses have been used and ridden over the forest since its creation in Norman times and no substantial damage has ever been caused long term. No wheeled vehicle should be allowed off of the designated paths especially during the ground nesting bird season.

  6. “animals roaming free who have a right to a quiet life” – I hadn’t realised that this was “law”?

    Also Geoff might need to understand that the Verderers don’t manage the Forest, The Forestry Commission do that. The Verderers manage the grazing by regulating the commoners who have rights If I remember correctly. The verderers are interested in all sorts of stuff outside their core role, some of which has been helpful over the years and some of which hasnt.

    As for history being the arbiter of whats right and wrong I’m not sure thats a good rule as there are many things that “have been carried out since norman times” that are plainly cruel, illegal or damaging in todays society.

    There is evidence to suggest that cycles don’t cause erosion any more than pedestrians do. That evidence also equates shod horses with 4×4 vehicles.

    I cant speak for all cyclists but I don’t think any are asking to “ride roughshod over the forest” as is legally allowable on horseback but just to be able to access a wider network of tracks that join useful places up so that they can enjoy the forest for the same reasons as others do.

    Regarding your comment of “no wheeled vehicle… durng the bird nesting season” that could be extended to “no recreation user (dog walkers, runners, walkers, horse riders, cyclist et al) should be off the tracks during the bird nesting season”. I’m a dog walker and a horse rider and I realise that I have as much impact, if not more than someone who just happens to be on a bike.

  7. “animals roaming free who have a right to a quiet life” – I hadn’t realised that this was “law”?

    Also Geoff might need to understand that the Verderers don’t manage the Forest, The Forestry Commission do that. The Verderers manage the grazing by regulating the commoners who have rights If I remember correctly. The verderers are interested in all sorts of stuff outside their core role, some of which has been helpful over the years and some of which hasnt.

    As for history being the arbiter of whats right and wrong I’m not sure thats a good rule as there are many things that “have been carried out since norman times” that are plainly cruel, illegal or damaging in todays society.

    There is evidence to suggest that cycles don’t cause erosion any more than pedestrians do. That evidence also equates shod horses with 4×4 vehicles.

    I cant speak for all cyclists but I don’t think any are asking to “ride roughshod over the forest” as is legally allowable on horseback but just to be able to access a wider network of tracks that join useful places up so that they can enjoy the forest for the same reasons as others do.

    Regarding your comment of “no wheeled vehicle… durng the bird nesting season” that could be extended to “no recreation user (dog walkers, runners, walkers, horse riders, cyclist et al) should be off the tracks during the bird nesting season”. I’m a dog walker and a horse rider and I realise that I have as much impact, if not more than someone who just happens to be on a bike.

  8. I agree that we should conserve our countryside, but cannot see that a bicycle will cause more damage to the environment that a horse. It’s true that horses have been ridden in the Forest since Norman times, but that does not mean they cause less disruption to the forest floor than bicycles. Putting it simply, which would you rather walk on, a path frequently used by cyclists or one used a lot by ridden horses ?
    As a cyclist I have no problem with horse riders and happily share the cycle track with them. Similarly cyclists, wheelchair users and scooters can legally use bridleways in the rest of the UK. There are various examples of graveled wide tracks in the Forest which help connect up official cycleways but are technically forbidden to cyclists for no obvious reason (as mentioned by Paul N) The argument regarding prevention of damage by cycles appears to be nonsense because these tracks are clearly used by motorized vehicles.
    Finally, exercise enjoyed by an individual has been repeatedly demonstrated to promote both physical and emotional well being, so let’s encourage the powers that be (whoever they are) to move into the 21st century and accept these new fangled bicycles that have only been around for just over a century.

  9. I really can’t see how a bike causes any more of an issue than a horse – I haven’t seen any damage caused by bike in the forest.
    I think if anyone (bike rider, horse rider, runner, walker, dog owner) causes a problem then there should be penalty – all people in the forest should be treated equally. Provided you are not causing damage and are being considerate to others, there should be a presumption of access – surely that is the point of a national park!

  10. Travelling across the same terrain, a cyclist will cause less damage than a horse. There is no reason to believe a cyclist will have any more detrimental effect to grazing animals, than a ridden horse. In short, there is no justification for the discrimination against cyclists. Cyclists should have equal rights to horse riders.
    Both should be required to act in a responsible way, to respect this beautiful part of the country, including the traditional way it is “worked”.
    The Verderers, as I understand it, give Forestry England the right to oversee a limited mileage of permitted cycle routes. (And threaten them that this will be stopped if its not to their liking.) The Bridleways, which were effectively removed, should be reinstated.
    The truth is that the Forest is managed by an archaic, undemocratic, self-interested group who far exceed their true mandate.
    Forest management should be transferred to a scientifically based body to protect the environment, in conjunction with FE to oversee the forestry business, and with advice from the Verderers/Commoners to protect the farming aspect.

  11. I think the Verderers recently scored an own goal in trying to ban electric bikes even on the permitted cycle paths. They were trying to ban older and less fit people from participating in their chosen form of exercise in a safe and enjoyable environment. Not every cyclist wants to ride on unsafe roads. Exercising allows healthy ageing that will help lessen future demands on the finite resources of the NHS. The Verderers were also attempting to stop people who had long COVID who previously cycled without a problem, who now need an electric bike as part of their recovery. It showed their true colours – their uneducated, biased and archaic beliefs. They should concentrate on things like overgrazing by commoners and protecting the open heathland during the ground nesting bird season and not just picking on off road cyclists. I have never seen a cyclist risk injury riding over open heathland. They stick to the well worn paths that cross these important landscapes, as its too dangerous to ride over the heather (and I know it is against the bye laws to ride over these well worn paths). Yet I have seen walkers, dogs, horse riders and 4×4 vehicles paying scant attention to the heather even when there are ground nesting birds. The Verderers and the bye laws need bringing up to date. As said in the previous post, decisions that effect the New Forest should be based on scientific evidence and they should not just be anti-cyclist.

  12. Sadly, I do have an axe to grind as I am a regular cyclist and user of the New Forest. This anti-cyclist sentiment of so many locals is an absurd attempt to cover up the damage that local dog walkers are doing to the forest. Dog poo and bags of it are all over the place. I have arrived very early on a Sunday morning and many car parks are packed with dog walkers. What I have an issue with is so many people not bagging their dog poo or bagging it and thinking it is OK to hang the bag from a tree or throw it by the trail side. I have even seen cars drive out of car parks leaving 2-3 bags of dog poo on the ground where the car was. A few weeks ago I confronted a woman whose dog pooed behind my car and she just walked away and left it. Also a woman with 5 dogs running freely complained to me that cyclists are not permitted on the trail I was on. I was walking with the bike on a short cut to the next trail. The woman was not carrying anything and particularly no dog poo in bags for 1 dog let alone 5 dogs!
    And these people have the audacity to complain about cyclists!
    Read this and many similar reports and studies:
    https://news.sky.com/story/is-your-dog-harming-your-local-beauty-spots-depends-if-youre-a-pooper-scooper-12535396
    The New Forest is a national treasure. It is NOT the local dog walkers’ personal back yard to treat as they wish.
    If the Verderers seriously want to ‘preserve’ the forest they need to put a stop to these stupid anti-cycling campaigns and concentrate on reducing dog poo in the forest. Personally I am not sure that the Verderers are the right people for the job. They are out dated and out of touch.
    For the record. I would love to have a dog myself, but since I cannot be sure that I would take the responsibility seriously, I don’t have one.

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