The New Forest is in danger of being turned into a 'theme park' after a decision to allow food trucks to sell hot drinks and snacks in the national park, the head of a group that defends the historic rights of residents warned.

The Commoners say Forestry England's approved plans for 'mobile cafes' to sell tea, coffee, cakes and pastries in car parks is a 'recipe for disaster'.

They worry the proposal - which has been given the green light by an ancient body responsible for the preservation of the Hampshire forest - will lead to its 'commercialisation'.

In particular, they are concerned about the increased risk of dangerous interactions between their famous ponies and queueing families.

Any violence between hungry ponies could lead the owners to have to pay thousands of pounds in compensation if sued - as responsibility falls on the owner of the animal.

The New Forest is well-known for its roaming ponies, donkeys, cattle, pigs and in some places, sheep.

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For their 'safety' the local authority instructs visitors to resist feeding or petting them, to ensure they don't become reliant on people's attention, and issues a fixed penalty fine of £100, rising to £1,000 following a successful prosecution for doing so.

Forestry England had wanted to extend the remit of food vans to include the sale of hot drinks and snacks in what they call a 'real improvement and modernisation in quality' of catering as well as increasing revenue.

Now, despite much opposition, the Verderers court - an ancient body responsible for the upkeep of the forest - has approved the mobile cafes plan for two years, subject to monitoring.

The Commoners Defence Association - which represents those who occupy New Forest land or property including those who have the right to right to graze stock in the Forest - had made a passionate appeal for the court to reject the plan.

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Speaking after the decision, CDA chair, Andrew Parry-Norton, said: "We are obviously very, very concerned about the interaction between the stock and the visitors.

"We really felt the verderers should have recognised those risks we feel are there and do really feel let down.

"We feel it's a major impact on the future of the forest.

"It's the commercialisation of it.

"People come here to enjoy nature, the environment and as a relief from everyday pressures.

"We don't want it to turn into a theme park.

"People should enjoy it, but in its natural state."

On if people wanted to enjoy hot drinks and cakes or pastries, the 55-year-old farmer added: "We've got so many towns and villages here - just go and sit in a cafe somewhere."

He expressed concern about the precedent this may set, adding: "We've got to be careful things that might creep up and start happening.

"Let's keep the forest in its natural state - how it should be."

The New Forest National Park Authority already run a 'Keep Your Distance' campaign, with the feeding of ponies against the bylaws.

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"Some ponies and donkeys develop an unhealthy craving for human food and become aggressive with people who, quite rightly, try to keep their picnics to themselves," their website states.

This latest court representation follows controversy earlier this year regarding a licence being granted for an ice-cream van at a popular beauty spot in Lyndhurst, Hants, which saw nearby high street shops complain it stole business from them.

Recording their decision in the verderers minutes, they said: "All of these sites have been carefully chosen as busy day visitor sites in more robust locations that already support high numbers of visitors helping to avoid and reduce impacts on more sensitive locations.

"Other considerations in choosing these locations have included the ability to use existing infrastructure to avoid impacts on grazing and to remove the livestock interaction risk by locating sites within existing fenced areas where possible.

"The key update at these locations is the provision of hot drinks and a limited selection of unwrapped cakes or pastries.

"There are no proposals and have never been any, for burger vans or provision of hot or cold sandwiches on the Crownlands.

"We agree that would be inappropriate.

"Some of the concerns raised are understandable and I'd like to give reassurance that they have been carefully considered and mitigated.

"The tender exercise includes a focus on minimum packaging, recyclability, and controlled litter management.

"In addition, as already mentioned, where possible the concessions will be placed within enclosures or fenced areas to ensure livestock interaction is minimised.

"I'd like to also emphasise the primary objective of the latest tender exercise.

"We believe that whilst the offer that has been provided for a number of years has been acceptable, there is now real scope for improvement and modernisation in quality, appropriateness and impact.

"For example, by slightly amending the offer in this way we are able to find partners with more suitable and sustainable vehicles that are quieter and generate fewer emissions.

"We have changed the tendering and licensing process to make it more robust and have built-in regular contract reviews and contract breakpoints so that we can make sure that any business we work with is the right fit for the Forest.

"This is an opportunity for concessions that are visually less impactful, environmentally friendlier, can offer more local produce, can act as stewards of these sites and champion all of our shared values including the New Forest Code."