A PLAN to reintroduce bears to Britain's newest national park has received a mauling from conservation and tourism bodies in the New Forest.
Protesters fear the scary carnivores will eat other wildlife, make a mess sitting in the woods and hamper picnickers by stealing their food.
Rangers trained in American national parks such as Yellowstone, where the bears are a big draw, will be employed to monitor the New Forest's new arrivals for a trial period.
If the experiment doesn't work they will be rounded up and removed from the forest completely with national park officials promising not to leave a single bear behind.
Lymington bear expert Ursula Major said: "Bears are technically carnivores, but in practice most of their diet consists of plant matter such as sedges, grasses, bulbs, seeds, berries, and roots. They will also eat insects, fish and small mammals."
"For ursine species the New Forest environment can provide all the bear necessities of life," she added.
Objectors argue that since the creatures have not lived in the New Forest for centuries they will lose their bearings and run forestry staff ragged trying to tempt them out of their hiding places with tasty treats.
"Of course bear baiting is illegal," said European animal welfare group spokesman Ted De Behr, who also feared the animals would be shot and skinned for their valuable furs which will be sold to make ceremonial headgear for soldiers.
Local folk, however, remain sceptical and have pooh-poohed the suggestion that the bears will be suited to the forest where cranial injuries caused by brushes with low-hanging branches may result in a bear with a sore head.
First published: April 1