Plea for new travel restrictions after ‘horrendous’ crowds hit local beauty spots

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There was a surge in bad parking across the New Forest over the weekend (picture: Forestry England)

THE government must restrict how far people can travel during the coronavirus lockdown after “horrendous” crowds built up at the weekend, council leaders have urged.

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Cllr Vikki Slade, the leader of BCP Council, called on MPs within the Christchurch, Bournemouth and Poole area to push for more controls to make people stick to lockdown rules and respect the environment.

In the New Forest the alarm was raised by Forestry England, the national park authority and firefighters about a surge of cars parking on verges and obstructing emergency access, as well as litter, wild camping, and fires and barbecues.

The increasing pressure from thousands of visitors prompted conservation group Friends of the New Forest to speak out to demand authorities take “bold decisions and action”.

Friends chair John Ward said: “Unless people stop treating the New Forest like just any urban park we are going to lose the special qualities that make this magnificent landscape internationally recognised for its importance to nature and wildlife, who in turn are dependent on the ancient pastoral system that allows the free roaming of livestock.

“With a much increased nearby resident population and the unfortunate uncaring activity of more than a few visitors today, those charged with the task of managing the national park and the Crown lands of the Forest must do more than just watch and talk.”

Forestry England also complained about car parks being over-run, with vehicles damaging the verges and blocking narrow roads for emergency services. Waterside police reported dozens of illegally parked cars on double yellow lines and blind bends.

The NPA tweeted a photo of a foal chewing on a piece of rubbish and pleaded with people to take their waste home.

At Totton’s Testwood Lakes nature reserve anti-social behaviour, vandalism and a sunken boat prompted police to impose a dispersal order giving officers the power of arrest if people do not leave the area.

The 4th New Forest Sea Scouts based there suffered damage to property. Crowds gathered at the weekend, leaving piles of litter and ignoring rules against swimming.

Litter left at Testwood Lakes

The site is run by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. Its chief executive, Debbie Tann, said: “I’m shocked, upset and angry at what’s been going on in our nature reserves.

“We shouldn’t have to be worrying about the safety of our staff, volunteers and the public, or clearing up after people who obviously have little thought for anyone or anything.”

The call for action in Christchurch and surrounding areas by Cllr Slade came after she claimed to have witnessed widespread flouting of the Covid-19 restrictions, including ignoring social distancing, large groups meeting up beyond permitted numbers, and illegal parking.

She described the scenes on Bournemouth beach as “horrendous”, and said staff there and in Christchurch had been “abused and spat at” when they tried to speak to people, including not having barbecues on beaches until after 6pm.

To tackle the crowds within the BCP Council area, Cllr Slade is now demanding a postcode limit on who can access the beaches and beauty spots.

She said: “It would not be foolproof, there would be some tolerance, but it would enable us to do what we intended to do – to enable the 800,000 residents of Dorset to enjoy Dorset.”

If adopted, her proposal would mean only people with a BH or DT postcode would be allowed to travel to beauty spots and beaches in the area.

In a letter to Dorset MPs and the chief constable of Dorset Police she wrote: “This is a matter of urgency and I respectfully request that you escalate this and let me know the reaction.”

Her letter came after four people had to be airlifted to hospital from Durdle Door at the weekend, including three who jumped from the stone arch 70ft into the sea. The fourth broke their leg after climbing to the top.

Pleas for action were backed by Dorset Council leader Cllr Spencer Flower who wrote to the Prime Minister and Dorset MPs calling for changes to the government’s travel rules to require people to “stay local” for now.

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