Cyclists ride into a storm over journey to forest

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The rural idyll in one of England's oldest forests is being shattered by cyclists who are travelling into the area in cars. The Forest of Dean's cycle track, which has been open for 18 months, is proving so popular that cyclists from as far a field as Birmingham and London are flocking to the woodland - and filling it with fumes.

Local environmentalists are so concerned that they have undertaken pilot studies to assess the new phenomena. They found that in one three-hour period in July, 151 cars carrying 325 cycles entered the area. This was 50 per cent higher than the previous year.

Mary Newton, co-ordinator of the Dean Environmental Alliance, said: "Add to this the number of cycles carried in vans and estate cars, which cannot be seen to be counted and those vehicles travelling to the centre of the forest to hire cycles and it all adds up into making this appear to be an environmentally unfriendly project. The local lanes around for example the West Dean parish are not built to cope with these levels of traffic."

Residents are also angry that provision has been made for "tourists" but not for the local community. "This project cost half a million pounds and still local people have no cycle route between the main towns of Cinderford, Coleford and Lydney," said Sally Albrow, chairwoman of the West Dean parish council.

The problem will be difficult to solve for planners who are committed to developing cycle routes. Campaigners point out that these are supposed to reduce, not increase, traffic levels. Mark Tucker, chief land negotiator with Sustrans, a cycling think-tank which produced a report for Gloucestershire County Council in 1992 recommending the route, said it was inevitable that "people would drive and then cycle in inaccessible spots".

There are alternatives. The cycle route is only a short ride away from Chepstow rail station. Some rail firms have targeted cyclists as valuable customers and installed lockers at stations and cycle racks in carriages. However, many cyclists see rail travel as old-fashioned and inconvenient.