A MAJOR protest is to be staged to fight controversial plans for the future of the New Forest, the Daily Echo can reveal.

Hundreds are expected to flock toWilverley Plain near Brockenhurst for a huge show of opposition against proposals they fear could have a “devastating” effect on Forest lifestyle.

Members of Forest Uprising are encouraging campaigners to bring their horses and dogs and to wave placards at the high profile demonstration.

They are battling National Park Authority plans that they say would have a catastrophic effect on forest life.

Proposals include making horse owners go through a strict planning process before being allowed to keep their animals for recreational use, and the possibility of introducing tolls on New Forest roads.

Dog walkers are also up-inarms over plans to create a number of “dog-free” car parks while others are opposing proposals for tighter planning restrictions.

The demonstration is taking place at Wilverley Plain on the road between Brockenhurst and Burley on October 4 at 10.30am.

Organiser Tina Cant said: “This is not going to be a stuffy talking event, it’s going to be a chance for people to air their views.

“If you are a concerned local then come along and show some support.”

Meanwhile, Hampshire’s top politician has vowed to block moves to make motorists pay to drive through the New Forest.

The leader of Hampshire C o u n t y Council, Ken Thornber, said responsibility for roads lay with his authority and that he was opposed to the controversial plan.

He said: “As those roads are our responsibility, the county council will take the decision and I can tell you we are unalterably opposed to road charging. The New Forest is meant to be available to everyone and charging is not what the place is all about.”

“If a form of congestion charge were introduced, it would deter people from coming. We depend on our 13.5 million visitor days-a-year, so whoever has put forward the idea of road user charges has to come to us first.”

Yesterday members of the Forest Uprising Group were out in force gathering signatures for a petition that will be delivered to Westminster.

Campaigner s were at Beaulieu Road Pony Sales to gather support for their opposition to the plans that they could “devastate” the Forest equestrian industry.

NPA bosses say that the draft plan and recreation strategy – containing the schemes – are open for public consultation until the end of October.