27th Sep, 2020

Unprecedented rise in fly-camping and campervan ‘staycation’ numbers halts conservation work and puts nature at risk

Claire Bullivant 22nd Jul, 2020 Updated: 22nd Jul, 2020

Following a dramatic increase in the amount of discarded equipment and litter being left behind at countryside and coastal locations, the National Trust is urging people not to fly-camp on its land and to help protect nature and wildlife.

With more people than ever likely to ‘staycation’ this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic, National Trust ranger teams are finding 20 per cent of their time is now having to be spent on clearing up after visitors rather than on vital conservation work to help nature.

Since the easing of lockdown restrictions in England various tourist hot spots including the Peak District, Lake District and South West have seen significant increases in the numbers of people camping, and a spike in the number of camper vans parking at beauty spots overnight, without permission.

• In Dovedale, in the Peak District, 170 large bin bags of rubbish were collected over just three days in June.  And over the past few weeks 25 tents  have been cleared together with 20 camping chairs, six air beds, several BBQs and a couple of camping tables.

• In the Lake District the number of camper vans parking illegally is wiping out the capacity in many car parks for day visitors with 118 counted in one valley in just one evening at Buttermere.  There are also unsustainable levels of anti-social fly-camping on accessible lakeshores with campers lighting fires, damaging trees and littering.

• In West Cornwall 140 camper vans were turned away from 10 small remote sites over a week-long period, doubling or tripling what Trust would normally expect.

Longshaw Area Ranger Chris Millner commented: “The volume of debris left behind is overwhelming and something we’ve not experienced before.  After people have finished having fun it’s like they abandon ship.  What they couldn’t be bothered to carry out they just left for someone else to clean up.”

Neil Winder, Area Ranger – Grasmere & Great Langdale in the Lake District said: “We’re pleased to be able to welcome back holiday makers to the Lake District, but it’s not yet business as usual while we gradually reopen with the safety of our guests, staff and volunteers in mind.

“We encourage visitors to plan and book their accommodation in advance as we are experiencing unprecedented demand.  Some Lake District hotspots simply cannot sustain the numbers of visitors turning up with nowhere to legally camp overnight.”

Steve Sudworth, Lead Ranger along the north Cornish coastline said: “Overnight camping numbers in cars, vans and tents are continuing to increase across our sites and car parks on the North coast, causing significant issues to the area and visitors.

“The overnighters are frequently leaving human waste, used toilet tissue, BBQs and other litter across the beautiful countryside they have themselves come to enjoy. This is damaging these landscapes and spoiling them for everyone whilst causing a health hazard in already challenging times.

“We urge people to treat the countryside with respect, please only stay overnight at authorised sites, take your rubbish home with you when you visit and do not go to the toilet where there are no facilities.”

The increase in campers and litter has led to more time being spent by National Trust ranger teams and volunteers clearing up after visitors.  Time which would usually be spent on vital conservation work.

Rob Rhodes, Head of Rangers at the National Trust said: “Due to lockdown we haven’t been able to get on with conservation work and many of our rangers who have returned to their posts over the past few weeks are champing at the bit to get on and start to clear the backlog.

“The sort of work we want to be doing at this time of year includes managing our flower rich meadows and caring for the wildlife that live there, and vital maintenance work to our network of paths and visitor routes.

“But this unsociable behaviour by some is taking up so much time that it’s affecting not only on the upkeep of our sites, but taking our staff away from vital conservation work and engaging with visitors.  Leaving debris and litter behind can cause issues for wildlife such as injuring animals and destroying habitats.

No one should have to clear up the mess that we are experiencing at some of our places.”

Ben McCarthy Head of Nature Conservation and Restoration at the National Trust said: “We have seen a huge increase in the number of people fly-camping at our places over the past few weeks, and they are leaving not only vast quantities of litter behind, but in some instances tents and much of their equipment.

“We are seeing a disposable festival mentality which we’ve not experienced at our places before.

“Some campers are also lighting campfires which can cause big problems, especially with the land still being very dry despite recent rainfall.  Campfires should not be lit at any of our countryside or coastal locations.  Fires can easily get out of control and this could have a massive impact on wildlife and landscapes.

“We know one of the few positives of lockdown has been the rise in visitors enjoying the outdoors, nature and the countryside.  And while we want to do all we can to encourage more people to spend time in nature, we all have a responsibility to leave places as we found them  – for other people but also for the sake of nature itself. We want to remind people to follow the countryside code and that they should only camp overnight with a landowner’s permission.”

You can find the most recent version of the Countryside code here.

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