THEY are usually handed out for bad behaviour on a football pitch but now officers are dishing out yellow cards in a bid to stop under-age drinkers.

Hampshire County Council is stepping up patrols in the New Forest and officers are turning referee by booking youngsters caught with alcohol.

Accredited community safety officers (ACSOs) are patrolling the streets and drinking hot spots and carding the youngsters.

Their drink is seized, details are taken and a letter is sent to their parents. Further bookings can land them in trouble with the police and youth offending teams.

The Yellow Card Scheme is designed to tackle low-level crime and antisocial behaviour by 14 to 18-year-olds.

Cards can also be issued for using foul language, throwing litter, riding bicycles on pavements, or engaging in threatening or intimidating behaviour in large groups.

Paul Hayes, who heads the council team of 34 ACSOs, said 83 cards had been issued in the New Forest this year compared with 12 last year.

It is one of four areas in the county where the scheme operates.

The numbers of officers in the Forest will have risen from eight last year to 14 by the end of this year.

Echo campaign The Daily Echo's Keep Kids Sober campaign is encouraging adults and parents - as the main source of alcohol for younger children - to take a more responsible role in teaching kids about the consequences of alcohol and to think before supplying them with drink.

Mr Hayes said: "Parents should take responsibility for their child's behaviour.

"They should try to be aware of what their kids are up to, where they are going and who they are with."

Mr Hayes put the increase in cards issued down to both his officers and under-age drinkers getting wiser, changing tactics and deployment of officers in different locations.

He said, for example, many youths now used "drinking dens" so if they are caught and have drinks seized on their person they have a reserve stash.

In 2005, 104 yellow cards were issued in four areas in Hampshire where the scheme operates - Basingstoke, Gosport, Havant and the New Forest.

ACSOs have issued 170 yellow cards in Hampshire so far this year.

Mr Hayes said no more than ten second yellow cards had been issued county-wide, and only three had gone to case conference level.