Debate Rages On New Forest Cycling
There were a couple of letters in the local newspaper this week opening up the debate about the “harm” that cycling across the New Forest does, say compared to horse riders.
It’s a controversial subject, not least because cyclists are often much maligned.
People often generalise about them, exaggerate issues and adopt an attitude that suggests the way they use the New Forest has more entitlement than our two wheeled friends.
I reckon that 99% of cyclists using the New Forest do so responsibly and derive great pleasure from it, getting healthy whilst they do so and causing little or no harm.
The greatest damage you will discover to the ground in the New Forest is that caused by Forestry Commission vehicles or contractors.
That said, it is partly a working forest used for timber production and many of the well maintained tracks in the enclosures are there courtesy of these operations.
If timber production came to a halt then it is by no means certain we would have these tracks kept in such good condition.
It’s the off road cycling that causes a real problem.
Some cyclists believe that they can go wherever they wish and may or may not be aware or care about the New Forest by laws which restrict cycling to certain routes.
It’s fair to say that you can see evidence of cycle tyre tracks that have damaged the forest floor.
However, you can also see significant damage caused by hooves of horses and cattle, particularly in some areas where there is heavy animal traffic.
The scientific research I have read on erosion of tracks proves rather inconclusive but wouldn’t justify banning one mode of transport over another on the grounds of erosion alone.
The New Forest, now a National Park, with special “protected” status, is an area where people are welcome but must respect the traditions and by-laws that have helped keep the area special.
I would very much like to see a more joined up and co-ordinated network of cycle routes than is presently the case.
Because there is little enforcement of by-laws relating to cycling, many people choose to cycle across the open forest with little or no regard to the laws.
Erosion of the forest floor isn’t the only issue.
We have some rare ground nesting birds, like lapwings and curlews that are disturbed by cyclists… and sometimes horse riders too.
I think it fair to say that the problem is getting worse because these days we have bikes with wider tyres and mobile phones with sat nav systems that prevent people from getting lost and can even encourage cyclists to go straight from A to B, across sensitive sites.
There is also the tranquility argument.
Many of us go out into the New Forest in order to experience an unspoilt landscape.
Somehow, a lycra coated man on a bike is rather more jarring to the senses than somebody trotting by on a horse.
Ultimately, I think the way forward that will work best is to get over the unfair prejudice that is directed towards the cycling fraternity.
We need to sit down with all the main stakeholders responsible for running the new Forest and work out the best means of encouraging responsible cycling whilst discouraging the irresponsible few.