Last night I enjoyed an evening talk titled, “Transforming travel in the New Forest National Park”. The talk was held as part of “Transport through the ages” a free exhibition at the New Forest Centre in Lyndhurst. Given by Mark Holroyd, the Transport and Tourism Manager for the New Forest National Park Authority (NFNPA). It was an illuminating presentation and highlighted the challenges the modern Forest faces. How do we protect the Forest’s priceless natural environment while encouraging valuable visitors?
Couldn’t we leave it as it is?
There are nearly 17 million people within 2 hours of the New Forest. In 2005 the New Forest saw 13.5 million day visitors and over 96% of them travelled by car. Last year there were 100 animal accidents. Every day we see some 140000 car movements in the Forest. Tourism is one of the biggest industries in the Forest. But it is clear something needs to be done to make travel more sustainable. On a busy day, the centre of Lyndhurst has the same air quality as the city of Southampton. On a busy day, because of the traffic, the New Forest loses a star or two on Trip Advisor.
That’s not a bus, it’s a visitor experience
The talk showed how the NFNPA and Hampshire Council were working together using 5.5 million pounds in grants from the Department of Transport to help make travel in the area more sustainable. For example by encouraging more visitors to take the ‘New Forest Tour’ and making these ‘bus’ journeys a ‘visitor experience’ in their own right. Day bus passes give visitors discounted entry to some attractions as well as a free ice cream at Lepe Country Park. Many Forest bus routes are at risk too, and these initiatives are affording them a new lease of life. Helping to protect the routes for the locals too. A win-win?
Our friends electric
Mr Holroyd demonstrated some of the other exciting initiatives being introduced including the privately run, 2 seater electric cars or ‘Twizys’, and the network of charging stations that help power them.
New Forest Travel Concierge
He also showed off the New Forest National Park Authority’s ‘New Forest Travel Concierge’ initiative. Last year this electric powered bicycle display was based solely at Brockenhurst. This year this service will rove around the Forest’s camping grounds. Encouraging campers to leave their cars on the campsites and helping them enjoy the Forest on foot or by bike. He also introduced some innovative future plans for Brockenhurst railway station.
I mentioned cycling once, but I think I got away with it
As you might have guessed quite a bit of the talk involved bicycles. Mr Holroyd is a brave man. This ‘hot topic’ was necessary though. It clearly demonstrated just how key bicycles are to making travel in the New Forest National Park more sustainable. Their idea is not to create more mass cycling events, some residents will be pleased to know. We are all aware just how polarised debates on the subject of Sportives can be. Their ultimate goal is to encourage more people to enjoy car free visits.
First ever rural bike hire system
They have exciting plans to introduce the country’s first ever rural public bike system. Similar to the Boris Bikes in London but in the New Forest and with more harmoniously designed docking stations. A network of around 20 unmanned bicycle docking stations, located at key attractions to help people replace short car journeys by bike. Like the bus route initiatives, many of the ideas should also be to the benefit of the locals too.
Share the Road
One initiative which the New Forest National Park Authority is working towards is tentatively dubbed, ‘Share the Road’. I personally think this is a great idea.
By really understanding the needs and problems faced by pedestrians, horse riders, motorists and cyclists we could all see a greater good develop. A little bit of understanding could go along way to helping people travel safely in the Forest. Which has got be a good thing. Sort of like a “I slow down for horses, walkers, & cyclists and also try not to hold up drivers too.” campaign. Not an easy one to juggle, but Mr Holroyd was keen to point out that the government grants were never designed to alienate motorists. Our beloved cars are safe in the New Forest.