The New Forest Association (NFA), conservationists for the south England national park, has accused cyclists of adversely affecting the area through "damaging and illegal activities."
Sharing data from a survey conducted by Friends of the New Forest (FoNF), the NFA revealed volunteers recorded 550 instances of cyclists riding off designated tracks in the national park during a six-week period in autumn 2021.
The NFA, the second oldest conservation organisation in the world, blamed cyclists, among other groups of people, of anti-social behaviour through the disturbance of habitats.
Sharing the survey (opens in new tab), the NFA said: "A survey co-ordinated by Friends of the New Forest has highlighted a lack of understanding and enforcement of New Forest bye-laws, and a prevalence of damaging and illegal activities that are harming the special qualities of the New Forest."
In total, the FoNF survey recorded 2,700 breaches of New Forest bye-laws during the six-week period, with the main offences relating to dog mess and off-route cyclists.
NFA Vice chairman Dr Gale Pettifer claimed protecting the forest from harm required more than just publicity campaigns.
She said: "The education aspect is there, but there also does need to be the 'stick', or we just admit it's a free-for-all. The volunteers, rangers and keepers are incredibly passionate about looking after the forest but they do need the tools to enforce the bye-laws."
However, the National Park Authority (NPA) has suggested the NFA's findings aren't as alarming, arguing the majority of visitors act responsibly in the New Forest. Having set out an action plan with other New Forest organisations over the past year to limit damage, the NPA insisted visitors responded positively.
Executive director Steve Avery said: "Most people behave responsibly but we recognise that there are a minority who through their thoughtless actions can harm the local landscape and wildlife.
"As a result, we put a joint action plan in place with other New Forest organisations last year to ensure that people don't inadvertently damage the place they have come to enjoy."
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