England’s national parks have urged caution for visitors planning to return to beauty spots from Wednesday – with some still telling people to stay away.
Updated Government rules on the coronavirus pandemic have relaxed the “stay local” message so people can drive to outdoor open spaces “irrespective of distance”, as long as they respect social distancing guidance.
But in the wake of the new situation – which only applies to England – national parks are warning people to respect local communities, keep their distance from others and avoid hotspots or busy areas.
Visitors are also being warned that many facilities such as car parks, visitor centres and public toilets, as well as cafes and pubs, are not yet open.
Forestry England, which looks after the nation’s forests, said car parks and some other facilities at its woods would begin to reopen, but people should check what is closed before travelling.
“We are sure many people will be keen to get out and about and they will need to be prepared to make the necessary decision to turn around if the car park looks busy, or is full, and come another time,” the agency said.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s chief executive David Butterworth said the Government’s approach to reopening the countryside was not one it had advocated.
“We, along with many organisations with countryside facilities, have advocated a staged approach with an initial ‘stay local’ message to avoid unnecessary travel and minimise any tension between visitors and local communities,” he said.
But in light of the new rules, authority-run car parks would now be opened and it was working to open toilets as soon as possible, he added, as he asked visitors to respect local communities, nature and other people.
The National Trust said some of its car parks in England would be reopening for people to access “fresh air, open space and nature” but those in Wales and Northern Ireland would remain closed as the devolved governments maintain a “stay at home” message.
Paid-for entry to its houses and gardens remains closed, the Trust said, adding any reopening would be “gradual” and it planned to introduce a pre-booking system when restrictions are lifted further.
The Lake District National Park is urging people not to return yet, in order to help communities in Cumbria, which officials said has one of the highest Covid-19 infection rates in the UK.
National Park Authority chief executive Richard Leafe said: “For now, we’re asking people not to rush back to the Lake District – help protect our communities, the fells will still be here when this passes.”
Leaders of the 12 Lake District Mountain Rescue teams also said it was important for people to stay off the high fells, to protect volunteers from the risk of Covid-19 infection and to reduce the workload on the NHS.
The Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Association said it was anticipating “real problems” from a surge of visitors who wanted to head to the mountains again.
Dartmoor National Park said it was reviewing how to reopen car parks and toilets and was awaiting further guidance on how to so while safely supporting social distancing.
“Until then please stay at home, avoid unnecessary journeys, exercise locally and follow social distancing and hygiene rules,” a statement from the National Park Authority said.
Sarah Fowler, chief executive of Peak District National Park Authority, also issued a personal appeal for anyone planning to travel to the area, saying: “Before your journey, carefully consider your own wellbeing and that of the Peak District’s many small communities.”
Continuing to use local parks and outdoor areas close to home could help the park ensure it can welcome visitors in the coming weeks and not put “undue pressure” on public highways, emergency access or key workers, she said.
A statement from Northumberland National Park said: We know people are missing the unique special qualities and tranquil setting of Northumberland National Park and the health and well-being benefits it brings.
“We ask you to kindly be patient and to not travel to the national park at this time.
“Until we are able to safely provide facilities to visitors it is not yet the best time to visit the park.”
Other national parks also urged would-be visitors to respect people and businesses in the parks, as well as the nature that has been thriving, ensure they practise social distancing, plan ahead and avoid busy areas.
The Broads Authority said the new rules allowed for sailing and paddle boating to resume from Wednesday, and it was awaiting clarification on whether private motor boats can be used for day trips.
And the Woodland Trust said that while its woods had been open through the lockdown to local people, some of its car parks, mainly at larger, more popular sites had been closed.
Decisions about reopening these in England would be made on an individual basis, taking into consideration the safety of doing so, the impact on local communities and continuing to follow Government advice, the charity said.