PARKING signs in Ashdown Forest have been vandalised after new, controversial parking charges were introduced last month.
The signs were vandalised using a black spray to obscure the payment and parking fee information, in what is believed to be a protest against the charges.
Parking charges were introduced to all 45 car parks across the ancient woodland for the first time in its history on Monday November 21.
Visitors to the forest in East Sussex will be charged £5 for an all-day pass and £80 for an annual pass, with those who are disabled or on Government benefits only paying £5 for an annual pass.
The forest says it has introduced the charges after a decrease in funding and an increase in costs.
Forest officials say the funds from the parking will be used to improve facilities, maintain paths and tracks, and clear up rubbish.
Sussex police have been informed of the vandalism and it has been passed on to the rural crime team.
James Adler, Ashford Forest Chief Executive, described the vandalism of the signs as ‘deeply sad’.
Mr Adler said: “It is a great shame that some of the funding that visitors to the forest have so kindly contributed via their car park payments will need to be used to repair the actions of just a small number of individuals.”
He stressed that the important funding the forest would have received is now being diverted towards clearing up the vandalism.
Acknowledging that not everyone welcomed the charges, he added: “Whilst we recognise that payment schemes will never be universally popular, we hope visitors will notice the improvements to the forest over the coming months and years as the funding allows for repairs and enhancements.”
He also said he was ‘touched’ by visitors who were happy to contribute to the forest’s conservation aims and thanked those who had purchased passes and tickets.
Ashdown Forest is an Area of Outstanding Beauty located in the North Downs in East Sussex and served as the inspiration for the Hundred Acre Wood in AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories.
It is not the only organisation that has brought in contested parking charges. Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is currently holding a public consultation until December 18 on whether to introduce fees at Dunorlan Park’s Pembury Road and Hall’s Hole Road car parks.
The move has already led to protests outside the park.