ONE of the world’s oldest conservation groups has called for cyclists in the New Forest to be prosecuted if they ride off designated routes.

The New Forest Association has urged the National Park Authority (NPA) and other organisations to tackle the problems caused by rogue riders.

Spokesman Eve Gillmon said rogue riders who breached the Forest by-laws should be taken to court by the Forestry Commission and fined.

Speaking at a meeting of the NPA, she said: “Many visitors believe they can take part in their recreational activity anywhere, at any time.

“The other problem involves cyclists who don’t care about the rules.

“These are the people who ride on the Forest away from recognised off-road routes, leaving trails in their wake and causing disturbance to flora and fauna.

“With the implementation of appropriate fines, this area of damage would drop dramatically.”

But Ian Taylor, representing an organisation called Hampshire Cycling, said the environmental impact of cyclists was equal to that of walkers and “significantly less” than horses.

However, NPA members cited problems caused by off-road riders and large groups of cyclists taking part in organised competitions.

Maureen Holding said: “I’m not anticycling but I’m very anti the type of cycling that takes place in the Forest.”

A Forestry Commission spokesman said: “We see prosecution very much as a last resort.

“We engage with Forest users via education and clear messages, participation and discussion with local groups and via the various Forest forums.

“Often we need to balance our priorities with the various pressures on the Forest and we must be realistic about our resources.”

There have been a growing number of complaints about cyclists flouting the rules and riding through environmentally sensitive areas – even at night.

Critics have also complained about cycling competitions in the area.

Organisations worried about the issue include The Verderers and the Commoners’ Defence Association, which represents pony owners.

One of the organisations involved in staging cycling events in the Forest is Tri-Adventure.

A spokesman said: “The rules regarding our events state that competitors may only bike on bridleways, byways, cycle routes and public roads.”