HORSE lovers have complained to the Defra minister, saying the forest is being “exploited” after plans for Gruffalo-themed events were revealed.

The children’s favourite character turns 15 this year, and the National Park Authority posted details of Gruffalo-themed trails, with seven-foot-high sculptures and activities based around Forestry Commission campsites around the forest.

But the New Forest Equestrian Association says this is “commercial exploitation” and says the move is contrary to what should be the aim – to “protect the forest for the quiet enjoyment of future generations”.

Now the NFEA’s chairman Tony Hockley has written to Dan Rogerson, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defra, in a strongly-worded letter entitled: ‘Commercial exploitation of the New Forest’.

He told Mr Rogerson there were “serious conflicts of interest” within the Forestry Commission.

And he said the Gruffalo plans were “a very worrying new direction in the exploitation of such a special, working landscape”.

He added: “The Forestry Commission campsites are already very busy, and a source of continuous pressure for further piecemeal development of the open forest.

“Their further enhancement as theme parks as part of a national commercial campaign by the Forestry Commission, will cause great concern to all who wish to protect the forest for the quiet enjoyment of future generations.”

And he said: “I would be very grateful if you could offer reassurance that the Government will address such clear conflicts of interest on the part of the new body that will replace the Forestry Commission, and that the special status and legal framework for the New Forest will be maintained in the forthcoming legislation.”

A spokesman for the Forestry Commission said: “The Forestry Commission has teamed up nationally with The Gruffalo in its 15th anniversary year, to help encourage children and their families learn more about woods and forests. The Gruffalo stories themselves explore the woodland environment, and introduce animal characters who might be found living in the forest.

“The proposed trails are designed to be self-led, temporary activities waymarked with carefully positioned signage. No permanent structures are to be installed. On campsites, the captive audience are those resident on the site. We hope that children and families will be inspired to find out more about the woodland environment when they visit.”

The activities are lined up for Ocknell and Longbeech, Holmsley, Roundhill, Hollands Wood and Ashurst in the New Forest, and across 23 other forests across England, to run through to the end of September In October, The Gruffalo’s Child activity trails take over and will stay in the forest right through the winter until February 2015, the commission’s website says.

Daryl Shute from Magic Light Pictures, the brand building and production company responsible for the award-winning animated Gruffalo films , said: “All the activities have been carefully positioned at Forestry Commission sites across the country so you are never more than an hour away from a Gruffalo adventure and we’re can’t wait to kick-off the celebrations with The Gruffalo activity trails across our New Forest campsites above.