CAMPAIGNERS recorded an "astonishing" 2,700 breaches of New Forest bylaws during just one six-week period.

Friends of the New Forest (FoNF) says a survey highlighted the extent of the damaging and illegal activities that are harming the area's special qualities.

FoNF - formerly the New Forest Association - is calling for the bylaws to be updated and enforced.

Issues identified by people who took part in the New Forest Bylaw Watch last autumn included litter, wild camping and dog mess.

The survey also recorded 550 cases of cyclists failing to stick to designated tracks, more than 500 instances of drivers parking on verges and 140 cases of vehicles blocking access to the open forest.

Other problems included livestock being chased or attacked by dogs and the Forest's free-roaming animals being fed by the public.

FoNF chairman John Ward said: “The results are startling and show that current initiatives focussed on educational activities and volunteering alone are insufficient to protect the Forest from harm.

"We urgently require updated bylaws that are appropriately promoted and enforced by the Forest authorities."

But the National Park Authority (NPA) said its Care for the Forest, Care for Each Other campaign had resulted in 10,000 hours of patrols, a barbecue ban and educational signs which had "significantly reduced" animal feeding and parking on verges.

Steve Avery is the NPA's executive director (strategy and planning).

He said: "Most people behave responsibly but we recognise there are a minority who through their thoughtless actions can harm the local landscape and wildlife.

"As a result, we put a joint action plan in place with other New Forest organisations last year to ensure that people don't inadvertently damage the place they have come to enjoy."

As reported in the Daily Echo, problems in the area have increased since the start of the pandemic.

The Forest saw a spike in visitors when lockdown rules were eased and again when continuing curbs on foreign travel resulted in "staycationers" holidaying in the UK instead of going abroad.

Plans to devise an action plan were unveiled in March last year.

Organisations said they wanted to avoid a repeat of the "anti-social and dangerous behaviour" seen in the area following the end of the first lockdown.

People parked on verges - often blocking access gates used by the emergency services - as well as accidentally starting forest fires by flouting the ban on barbecues.