THE New Forest’s campsites and country parks have been closed due to the coronavirus outbreak – and the main car parks are set to follow suit.
The move follows the closure of council leisure centres and schools and has been welcomed by local residents and councillors, who angrily reported witnessing people flocking to campsites over the weekend in defiance of government advice on social distancing.
Confirming it had closed all the recreation facilities it manages, Forestry England (FE) said it had been done to “keep the public, our staff and volunteers safe”.
FE said it will be closing the main forestry car parks during the course of today (Monday).
In a statement it explained: “This weekend, right across the country we have seen large numbers of people visiting public outdoor spaces, and it has not always being able to achieve social distancing. Covid-19 means that this is a threat to people’s health.
“Our priority is to keep the public and our staff safe and as a result we are in the process of closing all main car parks in the New Forest from today [Monday].”
Car parks being closed are:
- Whitefield Moor
- Hatchet Pond
- New Forest Reptile Centre
The statement added: “All of our public facilities within the New Forest are already closed including public toilets, visitor cabins, and BBQ facilities. Campsites are also closed and we would like to remind people that wild camping is illegal anywhere on the New Forest or in its car parks.”
The FE clarified: “Smaller car parks in the Forest remain open for now. We have taken the decision not to close these for several reasons.
“We are concerned that closures would lead to large amounts of parking on verges and open ground causing real and irreversible damage to the landscape.
“Parking at locations away from the network of tracks would also lead to large numbers of people walking across the open forest putting wildlife at huge risk, particularly as it’s the start of the ground nesting bird season in these areas.”
The spokesperson added: “We will keep the situation under constant review and may close all car parks with immediate effect if the government’s guidelines on social distancing are not being adhered to or if the advice from Public Health England changes.
“Local people still have access to the countryside but we ask everyone to ensure they follow government guidance on avoiding all non-essential travel and social distancing to help restrict the spread of coronavirus.”
The 10 main campsites in the New Forest are run by Camping in the Forest. It shut them with “immediate effect” yesterday afternoon (Sunday).
In its statement Camping in the Forest said: “Keeping you and your family safe and well is, and always will be, our first priority.
“Given the continued escalation of the virus, the thoughts of our customers and the messages from local tourist boards it is clear the time has now come to close all our sites with immediate effect.
It added: “We’d ask that you only call if you need to, we’ll work through bookings and get to you as soon as we possibly can.
“We’ll also be emailing all customers who have existing bookings with further advice. Whilst our lines are busy rest assured, we are working very hard and we are here to help.”
Urging people to get information from its website, it advised customers who had bookings between now and the end of April not to travel.
Camping in the Forest said it would “continue to follow government advice” and “make a statement in May on bookings as soon as the situation becomes clear”.
All bookings from June can be amended to any available date in the next 15 months without any charge.
Over the weekend a number of people taking to Facebook to report they had seen people arriving at campsites in Brockenhurst and were irritated the current situation was being treat “like a holiday”.
Many reported contacting New Forest East MP Julian Lewis and his New Forest West counterpart Sir Desmond Swayne to express concerns. They said they had received responses from both MPs and were delighted when the closure decision was subsequently taken.
One said: “Well [that’s] one thing less to worry and have concerns about all Forest camp sites closed until further notice. With immediate effect.
“Only sent an email this morning to bring it to the attention of our MP. Replied promptly to say thanks and talking to Forestry Commission. Three hours later job done.”
Another posted: “Lyndhurst has been like the summer holidays for the last two days it’s just crazy”, while someone else said: “Thank you. So well done. Let’s keep this united front going. Protect our towns, villages, forests and local hospitals!”
However, another Facebook user said her parents had sold their home so they could live and travel in their camper van and was angry – she was advised by another person they could park in designated free spots across the UK.
Another was fearful there could still be problems: “They will just wild camp I fear. Keyhaven was busy with campervans this afternoon, like midsummer.”
Cllr David Harrison, the leader of the Liberal Democrat party on New Forest District Council, supported the closures as he had seen “huge numbers of people out in the forest, many of them who were visiting from outside the district,” over the weekend.
A member of both the district and county councils, Cllr Harrison added: “The government, guided by health experts, have been warning people to socially isolate or distance themselves. If this isn’t happening, there will be ever more extreme measures taken.
“When thousands of lives are at stake, I hope people will think very carefully about changing their normal behaviour and accepting that we have to make sacrifices for a few weeks or months.”
Lepe Country Park and Moors Valley confirmed this morning (Monday) that it was also closing.
In a tweet, Lepe Country Park said: “Please do not drive to Lepe Country Park as there is no parking on the site and all our facilities at the park are now closed (including the play areas and toilets).
“The open spaces at the park are accessible for local visitors to walk around if they are following the latest government guidelines on social distancing.”
Moors Valley Country Park posted: “In line with government guidance to help support the management of the coronavirus the decision has been made to indefinitely close the car parks at Moors Valley alongside all remaining facilities. #staysafe.”