National park authorities in England are telling people not to “rush back”, amid fears rural communities living inside the beauty spots could be overrun by visitors.
People should “stay local” and think twice before driving to parks, despite lockdown restrictions easing in England, said Kevin Bishop, the national parks officer and chief executive of Dartmoor national park. “We want people to be responsible and respectful. It’s a living, working landscape. How would you feel if you suddenly had lots of visitors suddenly descend on your home?”
From Wednesday, people in England can drive to outdoor spaces, irrespective of distance, as part of the government’s relaxation of lockdown measures. Bishop is concerned that local services in national parks – home to 327,000 people – could be overwhelmed by a sudden influx of visitors.
This could lead to a repeat of what happened in Snowdonia at the end of March when authorities said it had been the busiest visitor weekend in living memory. Bishop said: “We’re desperate to do everything we can to avoid a repeat of the images we saw of Snowdonia. That’s what we’re working to do at the moment through the steps we’re taking and messages we’re giving to people.”
Park authorities wanted a phased reopening of the countryside but the government’s announcement means England’s national parks are “playing catch-up” and will work as quickly as possible to open car parks and toilets before reopening other facilities.
Local communities are concerned visitors will spread the virus, with farmers worried about contamination from people opening and shutting gates. Bishop is encouraging people to stay out of settlements for the moment: “We wanted to be able to welcome people back to our towns and villages to get the footfall to aid our businesses but we don’t feel now is the time to do that. Those shops that are open have limited supply and are supplying our local community, and that needs to be the top priority.”
It follows warnings from police in the Lake District that people should “take a long hard look at your own conscience” before travelling to the national park.
The chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, James Mason, said: “In March we asked people to stay away from our many beauty spots (coastline and countryside) to prevent the spread of Covid-19. We welcome the road map to recovery but with caution. Please respect that these communities are not yet able to cope with tourism.”
Welsh national park authorities welcomed Welsh government guidance for people to stay at home and told people not to visit national parks. Popular rural spots such as Snowdon and the Pembrokeshire coastal path will remain closed and people from England have been told not to cross the border to go walking on Welsh hillsides and coastlines.
Emyr Williams, the chief executive of Snowdonia national park, said: “These measures in Wales mean that people cannot drive to exercise in Wales – no matter where they live – and there will continue to be no parking or access to the most popular sites in the Welsh national parks.”
Lockdown restrictions have also been extended in Scotland and people should still not be driving to take exercise. A spokesperson from Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park said: “The vast majority of people have done what’s been asked of them: they’ve stuck to the ‘stay at home’ guidance and have stayed local for exercise. We certainly hope that will continue to be the case.”