PLANS to keep major New Forest campsites closed, despite the government giving the go-ahead for holidays, will affect businesses and lead to unlawful wild camping, locals have warned.
Independent operating company Camping in the Forest announced last Thursday that it will not be reopening its sites this year at Hollands Wood, Setthorns, Holmsley, Ocknell, Long Beech, Ashurst, Denny Wood, Roundhill and Matley Wood.
But it has been urged by local businesses and Forestry England to reconsider, amid fears of losing visitors’ trade and campers staying illegally.
Concerns about the impact on firms which are already struggling due to the impact of coronavirus were raised by Cllr Hilary Brand, a café owner and the district councillor for Lyndhurst.
She said: “The whole of our high street is very concerned about the campsites not opening. We will not survive as businesses if holiday makers cannot come to the Forest – not just our high street, but all Forest high streets.
“We have all taken great care to make our shops and cafes safe places. I believe that the campsites can easily be made safe, especially the ones without facilities.
“The view to not open them is very short-sighted, not only for our economy but it could mean people camping where they should not and causing hazards and danger.”
Forestry England also called for a rethink, with a spokesperson telling the A&T: “We feel for the staff, their families and holidaymakers affected by Camping in the Forest’s decision not to run a very short season in 2020 and we hope the company takes the time to quickly review and reconsider.”
“We understand the economic environment post-lockdown is very tough and seasonal businesses are uncertain about their income.
“We are also very aware of people’s concerns about the anti-social behaviour we are already seeing in our forests and fears that closed campsites might increase this.”
She added: “We are urgently talking to other Forest organisations, landowners and local stakeholders to find ways to work together to limit wild camping and other anti-social use of the Forest.”
A Brockenhurst resident, who did not want to be named, called the decision “total lunacy”.
He told the A&T: “The businesses and local shops which have been so badly hit by Covid-19 and have directly supported Forestry England, for example, by stopping selling disposable barbecues, now receive a real slap in the face as visitors and their resulting trade will be effected.
“A minority of visitors will come regardless as we’ve seen. They’ll continue to camp illegally, light bonfires, use the Forest as a toilet, leave piles of rubbish, and park where they like in ever increasing numbers as the summer builds.”
Camping in the Forest said in a statement: “After careful review it was clear that our Forest campsites posed unique challenges, meaning that we would be unable to meet our high hygiene standards and adhere to government guidance on new measures around the running of campsites.
“We appreciate the inconvenience and disappointment this brings but trust you will be understanding of the situation this year.”