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Forest Diary

Forest Diary: The end of the track for off-road drivers

 by Alex Howells Beat Forester at the Forestry Commission

On my beat in the north of the New Forest, I see all kinds of things happening when I’m out and about. As a Forester I have a varied role – and like so many of us, I feel lucky to live and work in a place as unique as the New Forest! So when I see people riding trail bikes or taking four by fours across the forest I get very upset. 

It’s an issue that we want to put a stop to. It’s dangerous and spoils other people’s enjoyment of the forest and can destroy sensitive habitat for wildlife. Recklessly driven vehicles can spook ponies and other Forest stock, and has been known to cause ponies to run out onto public roads and get injured.

It’s antisocial behaviour and we intend to make full use of the law to get the message across that it will not be tolerated here. My colleagues and I are working closely with Hampshire Police to deal with the issue of off-roaders causing damage to this special place.

Our local Country Watch and Wildlife Crime Officer recently assisted in helping me deal with an off-roader.

We had to recover a vehicle from the forest and impounded it until the owner paid for it to be released. The owner of the vehicle was also fined and issued with a section 59 for anti-social driving offences, and if he’s caught driving carelessly or off-road again during the next 12 months, the vehicle will be seized.

It’s vital that people understand the consequences of their actions, not only do trespassing vehicles disturb the tranquility of the forest, but they also pose a danger to others and themselves, damage trees and paths, and disturb plants and animals.

As a driving enthusiasts myself, I understand the thrill of driving off-road, but people should join local organised and official club events, that are away from sensitive areas.

I’ve been a fan of motorsports for as long as I can remember, I’ve had a go at racing at amateur level and I’ve always enjoyed watching rallying in the forests, after all it’s a sport at which Britain has historically excelled. We have produced a succession of international champions, some of whom have become household names.

 The Forestry Commission permits many motoring events on gravel tracks in other forest locations, such as in the north of England in June this year, they are hosting the Roger Albert Clark Rally in Kershope Forest, near Kielder.

Other land managed by the Forestry Commission has provided the space and forest roads required for many rally stages. However, these rallying events are managed in accordance with the strict rules and guidelines defined by the Motor Sports Association (MSA) – the national governing body of four wheel motor sport – in which public safety and environmental protection is of the upmost priority.

 Here in the New Forest, motorbike riders and four by four drivers who illegally access New Forest Crown lands will face prosecution as we’re prepared to clamp down on anti-social behaviour. Members of the public who witness vehicles illegally trespassing on the Forest are encouraged to report this through the Police’s non-emergency line – 101. We need people to report crime to the Police, not just on social media - otherwise it won’t be dealt with appropriately.

I’d like to thank Hampshire Police for their support in dealing with this recent incident, it was a great team effort and together we are determined to tackle this type of extreme anti-social behaviour. Not only is it illegal for unauthorised motor vehicles to access the Crown lands of the New Forest, but some of the people who do so are driving recklessly at speed across terrain that is not appropriate for this type of activity.

The forest is a great place for people to relax and quietly enjoy nature and we want to make sure they can do so in peace.



Last updated: 21st April 2018

England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.