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Donations sought to absorb New Forest deficit

VISITORS AND users of the New Forest – including dog walkers – may have to pay for the privilege to help with its upkeep. The Forestry Commission has a management deficit of around £2million a year, and benefits of a new project aimed at studying the impact of recreation on sensitive areas and re-directing activities to more robust sites will include identifying ways to generate revenue from visitors.

Following a presentation last month to the New Forest Committee, on Promotion and Guidance for Recreation on Ecologically Sensitive Sites (known as ‘Progress’), a four year scheme that is being run in the New Forest and Fontainebleu in France, project manager Bruce Rothnie of the Forestry Commission (FC) told the "A&T" that ‘visitor

Payback’ will be reviewed in other national parks and could include adding surcharges to hotel bills. Around 1,200 ‘permissions’ for activities ranging from filming to hunting are granted by the FC every year and Mr. Rothnie added that charging for activities, as some are free, may also be reviewed. "It doesn't bring in a huge amount of income to us, but is important for our control," he explained.

Donation meters have been installed in some of the FC car parks, but Mr. Rothnie stated that parking meters were not likely to be put out across the Forest.

‘Progress’ is a - million initiative led by the FC, in conjunction with French tourism and forestry agencies, the Countryside Agency and Alterra, a Dutch computer modelling company. Fifty per cent of the revenue will be provided by the EU through matched funding.

Mr. Rothnie added that Progress should form closer links between Forest management and the tourism sector. "There will be lots of opportunities for stakeholders in France to visit the Forest and likewise we will do the same. It will forge stronger links between tourism agencies in the New Forest and France," he said.

Impacts

There are five main objectives of Progress in the New Forest, which are to improve understanding of use for informal recreation, identify impacts of recreation on sensitive areas, to educate and inform all users, to increase community involvement and generate a sustainable long-term management plan. A major survey of both households and visitors will be used to ascertain activities and location choice.

The results will be fed into a computer-generated model to identify areas at risk of erosion and possible areas to re-direct recreational activities.

Once an ‘overall picture’ has been established, including mode and direction of travel, use of sites and length of stay, it will be linked to the New Forest Transport Strategy, stated Chris Fairbrother of the Countryside Agency. He added that the last survey, which was conducted in 1996/1997, showed 18 million day visits from both locals and non-residents. "The perception is that visits to the New Forest are increasing, but we lack an evidence base. Visitors have a role in protecting the Forest," he said.

A similar survey has been conducted in the South Downs and Mr. Fairbrother highlighted some of the lessons learnt: "It was surprising how small a percentage of people undertook active recreation. The majority of visits were not as active as you would presume.

£300million was generated and 53 per cent retained within the area. The New Forest is very different and it will be interesting to see comparative figures."

Chairman of the New Forest Committee, Ted Johnson, questioned how much the Progress survey would cost, stating that the previous survey, which was conducted by Portsmouth University students cost less than £20,000. Mr. Fairbrother replied that the Progress survey would cost approximately £100,000 as it was far more comprehensive.