THE New Forest could see a total overhaul of its recreational facilities in a bid to protect the unique character of the area.

To accommodate the increasing number of visitors – which have reached 13.5 million per year – the National Park Authority (NPA) is to ask for the views of residents during a three-month survey.

The project was requested by Hampshire County Council, the New Forest District Council and Natural England, among others.

The Forestry Commission, which has the biggest hand to play in the Forest’s management, will also contribute to the project.

Tourism is worth £500m to the economy and supports 11,500 jobs but the Forest authorities believe a major rethink is need on recreation.

The way leisure activities such as walking, off-road cycling, riding, camping and golf are managed will be assessed.

Open access to the Forest will remain but there will be moves to divert the public from the more sensitive sites.

Deputy surveyor at the commission, Bruce Rothnie, said the infrastructure wasn’t designed for the current level of use.

He said: “It was put in place in the 1960s and 70s – cattle grids, car parks, campsites – and this has stood us in good stead for some time. That was 40 years ago, before we knew which areas were richest in wildlife, and the facilities weren’t designed for their current level of use, which looks set to increase even further.

“The changes in the 1960s were a significant and pivotal moment in the forest’s history. Many believe we’re now at that point again.”

The first stage of the consultation will see the management strategy updated, which is set to run for another 13 years.

The consultation period, which opens on Monday, and runs until August 13.

NPA chairman Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre said: “We would like as many people as possible to join us in coming up with bold solutions to manager recreation and protect the forest.

“We’re asking people to consider what’s best for the forest as a whole as well as their own interests, completing the online survey on the national park website. There will also be a series of drop-in sessions and we will also be at the New Forest show.”