It’s New Year again; a time to reminisce over the past and to contemplate the future; a time for resolutions and a time for wishes. I was pondering on this just the other day and began to compile, in my mind, a list of wishes for the on-going protection and survival of this beautiful Forest of ours in 2024. I must emphasise that these are entirely my own opinions and, as space is limited, are those that I see as the most important.
I wish that cycling issues will be resolved in the coming year. I see nothing wrong in sharing our Forest with cyclists provided that they stick to the by-laws and the designated cycle tracks which stretch for more than 100 miles. It’s cycling on the open Forest and in its woodlands, mires and valley bottoms that gets my goat and the guilty parties who I have, on occasion, challenged, have been either, genuinely ignorant of the cycling code or, downright anarchistic and aggressive in their view of their ‘rights’. Similarly, there is a growing genre of individuals who insist in riding across the Forest at night; lighting their way with ridiculously bright headlamps and disturbing animals and livestock that surely deserve some respite from the daytime footfall created by a National Park. Further education for the ignorant and some form of penalisation for the repeat offenders would go a long way to resolving theses issues.
I wish that dog walking will be reviewed in 2024. Many of us, and indeed our dogs, enjoy the freedom that we have to exercise on the New Forest and responsible owners who have their dogs under control are no threat. It’s the irresponsible and personifying owners and some professional dog walkers who see no harm in their pooches chasing around after Commoners stock or disturbing the deer and ground-nesting birds that make an issue of this subject.
In writing these few words, it occurs to me that my penultimate wish is that the Crown keepers of the New Forest should see a restoration of the original powers which enabled their predecessors to fulfil their roles with great respect and effect. Financial impositions by Government have seen their numbers reduced from two head keepers, twelve beat keepers and two trainees to just ten keepers who, in this day and age, are all but powerless when performing their duties. They are men without teeth and that’s just not fair. How can we expect these few to protect our Forest and the interests of those of us who live here when they cannot bite-back when challenged? These are generally local individuals who have intimate knowledge, handed down through generations, which should continue to be passed on to those who will step into their shoes in the future. Given the drastic, national reduction in law enforcement resources, a revitalised and empowered force of Crown Keepers will go a long way to alleviate the pressure on the local police force and will, without doubt, help my aforementioned wishes to come true.
Oh, and my final wish? Is that you all enjoy a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.