A NEW study has revealed the ever-increasing pressure faced by environmentally-sensitive sites in the New Forest.

The number of days recreational visitors spend in the national park has risen to more than 15 million a year – up by 12% since the last survey was carried out in 2004.

It means the Forest sees more visitor days per square mile of protected conservation area than any other English national park.

The research, carried out by RJS Associates for the New Forest National Park Authority (NPA) and its partners, suggests the number of recreational visitor days will rise to more than 17 million by 2037.

Some 56% of the national park is classed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – more than any other national park in the country. The next highest is the Peak District, where only 35% is an SSSI.

Part of the problem facing the New Forest is that about 16 million people live within a 90-minute drive of the district.

NPA chairman Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre said: “I think people will be surprised to read just how much pressure the Forest is under and the huge number of visits to protected habitats.

“The Forest is home to some of the UK’s and Europe’s rarest wildlife species and habitats.

“This is why all the organisations responsible for caring for this precious area are working together to manage it both for people and wildlife.

“This new study will help inform future decisions.”

Earlier this month Mr Crosthwaite-Eyre warned that the national park was under more pressure than ever before.

The former official verderer spoke out just before a new one-hour documentary about the Forest was screened on BBC Four.

He said: “This year we will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the legislation that created national parks in this country and be encouraging everyone to get involved in our Year of Green Action, supporting those who are conserving and enhancing the New Forest for future generations.”

The Forestry Commission’s most senior officer in the area is the deputy surveyor, Bruce Rothnie.

He said: “The new report confirms the increase we have seen on the Crown land and why managing public access while protecting the Forest’s very special qualities is an increasing challenge.

“We all have a role to play in caring for the local environment.

“Together we aim to ensure that visitor facilities are fit for purpose and sustainably managed for future generations to enjoy, yet sensitive to the needs of the Forest.”

Further survey work is currently under way, with thousands of people being interviewed about how they use the area for recreation.