WORK which aims to safeguard one of the best-known beauty spots in the New Forest is due to be carried out over the winter.

Forestry England wants to ensure the long-term survival of Hatchet Pond, near Beaulieu, by accelerating plans to close the public toilets and move the car park.

It follows complaints about the number of families who flocked there in the summer and the amount of anti-social behaviour that took place.

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Locals say the environmentally-sensitive site turned into a busy activity centre, with people swimming, kayaking and paddleboarding. Unauthorised camping is also reported to have taken place.

Hatchet Pond is the most wildlife-rich pond in lowland England and home to some of the rarest wetland plants.

Attempts to protect the important freshwater habitat began last year and are gathering pace following the "unprecedented pressures" it experienced after the first national lockdown.

As reported in the Daily Echo, the 12-acre site is suffering from pollution as well as over-use.

The area around the pond is eroding, allowing silt to drain into the water from the car park. It has also led to regular flooding of the parking area, raising the risk of contamination from the toilet block.

The car park will be returned to grassland and a new gravel facility provided on higher ground away from the water's edge.

Supporters of Hatchet Pond having welcomed the plans, saying the presence of public toilets turned the site into an all-day visitor attraction, adding to the erosion and pollution.

Forestry England's most senior officer in the district is the deputy surveyor, Bruce Rothnie.

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He said: “Hatchet Pond is an incredibly important place for nature and wildlife.

"It's one of the few places where you can still find so many rare species in one place. It is also a special place for people to enjoy and appreciate nature and its beauty."

Funded by the Environment Agency, the restoration work will be carried out by Forestry England, the Freshwater Habitats Trust and Natural England.

Mr Rothnie added: “Working together with other organisations involved in looking after the Forest we are taking action to help protect this incredibly valuable location, build wider awareness of its importance and ensure its long-term survival.”

Plans to remove the toilets, which have already closed as a result of storm damage, have been welcomed by Beaulieu and East Boldre parish councils.