AN influential conservation group has rejected controversial plans to extend the cycling network in the New Forest.

The Verderers say cycling in the Forest is not being managed effectively and claim that extra routes would increase the problems being caused by people on bikes.

The proposed extension had been put forward by a working group comprising the Forestry Commission and other organisations.

One of the two new routes would have enabled cyclists to ride from Godshill to Hampton Ridge via Pitts Wood. The other would have linked the Bolderwood Ornamental Drive with a local landmark known as the Portuguese Fireplace.

But the scheme came under fire from the New Forest Association (NFA).

NFA chairman Peter Frost described the proposals as “irresponsible”, saying cycling in the Forest was being promoted instead of managed.

Speaking at the monthly Court of Verderers in Lyndhurst yesterday the Official Verderer, Dominic May, revealed that the additional gravel tracks had been rejected.

Mr May said the proposed Godshill-Hampton Ridge route passed through countryside that had been designated as a tranquil area.

He added: “The Bolderwood Ornamental Drive to the Portuguese Fireplace route has a significant length of grass and dirt track. The court was adamant that no surfacing of grass/dirt tracks should be permitted.”

The Verderers’ decision follows claims that an “explosion” in the number of cyclists visiting the Forest is damaging the fragile environment.

Mr May said: “The court agreed that cycling is not being effectively managed and the proposed new routes will not improve the situation.”

Last month the Forestry Commission issued a statement in response to previous criticism of the way it manages cycling in the area.

The statement said: “We are supportive of cycling as an activity and would sooner people enjoy the Forest on two wheels than four.

“Cycling off the approved network is against Forestry Commission bylaws and we do draw this to attention of cyclists if required.”