ONE of the world’s oldest conservation groups has launched a bid to ban off-road cycling “races” in the New Forest.

The New Forest Association (NFA) is demanding a crackdown after discovering that 1,800 riders are planning to take part in an organised event in April.

Members say the Forestry Commission should refuse to licence what they describe as competitive off-road activities that often amount to a race.

NFA chairman Peter Roberts said: “We support responsible cycling but there are other forests that are better suited to high-speed mass cycling events.”

Founded in 1867 the NFA has become the latest organisation to voice concern about an “explosion” in the number of cyclists invading the area.

The issue was raised at the monthly Court of Verderers in Lyndhurst yesterday.

Mr Roberts called for a major review of cycling in the district, including the systems in place for managing off-road events.

He said: “We have come across a cycle event taking place in April, partly on gravel tracks in the Forest. A website promoting it suggests that cyclists ‘will want to set a good time as they blast around this flowing course’.

“Is this how we want the Forest used? Is it the form of recreation that should be endorsed by the Forestry Commission and the National Park Authority?”

The event is the New Forest Spring Sportive, due to take place in Brockenhurst on April 14 as part of the Wiggle Super Series, when riders will be electronically timed.

A spokesman for the organisers refused to comment.

The Official Verderer Dominic May said the Forestry Commission was planning to monitor cycling in the Forest because of the concerns of various organisations.

A Forestry Commission spokesman said: “Our network of off-road cycle tracks provide over 100 miles of family cycling in a safe environment for both visitors and locals. We do recognise, however, that the network is not perfect. We welcome any opportunity to review the network to provide better opportunities and connectivity via constructive dialogue with our various partners.”

A National Park Authority spokesman said it encouraged responsible cycling, adding: “We are fully committed to playing our part in finding ways to work together to both protect the Forest and enable people to enjoy it.”