With fair weather expected this weekend and restrictions in England relaxed, people will be keen to get outside and into nature.
Major nature charities are urging the public to consider four things before travelling to beauty spots or nature sites. The Woodland Trust, Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, National Trust and Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust are encouraging people to:
- Stay local
- Check whether sites are open for visitors before travel
- Observe social distancing
- Respect the Countryside Code
To help prevent overcrowding at popular beauty spots, the charities are urging people to stay local and to walk and cycle where possible. Staying local will stop sites from being overwhelmed with visitors – minimising disruption for local communities and helping people to observe social distancing.
The charities are asking that people check that sites they plan to visit are open before they travel. While staff and volunteers have worked hard to reopen reserves and parkland in a short space of time, not all sites and facilities are yet accessible. In line with government guidance, visitor centres and cafes remain closed.
Where sites are open, the charities encourage visitors to observe social distancing and, with reports of ground-nesting birds and rare species nesting on or near busy paths, to take care of their surroundings and follow the Countryside Code.
The charities join several heads of National Parks from across the UK urging people to exercise locally. Last Sunday the prime minister announced a relaxation of rules on travel for outdoor exercise in England. The rules for England are now different from those in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said:
“Access to nature has given comfort to millions of people during the lockdown, and is critical for our physical and mental wellbeing. But, The Wildlife Trusts are urging people to stay local this weekend. Our visitor and education centres remain closed, and some nature reserves and car parks too, so we’d encourage people to check our websites before leaving home to avoid disappointment and overcrowding.
“With our workforce on the ground seriously depleted at the moment, having been forced to take the difficult decision to furlough staff, we hope that visitors to our nature reserves take care to maintain social distance and limit disturbance to wildlife. May is a great time to enjoy wildlife, so do get out there, but please stay local and stay safe.”
Darren Moorcroft, CEO, Woodland Trust said:
“We have seen the importance that our woods have played as places to exercise and how much they mean to people. All our woods are open and have been throughout the pandemic to local communities within walking distance. Some of our car parks mainly at larger more popular sites are closed where a lack of social distancing, and the volume of people driving to our sites, was impacting on surrounding communities and causing traffic problems.
“The Prime Minister’s statement on 10 May permitted unlimited exercise and the use of a car to travel to the countryside to do so. However, the Woodland Trust has sites in all four countries in the UK and current situations and advice is slightly different. Going forward in England we need to ensure that our sites are safe and ready for us to reopen those car parks and welcome back increased visitors. These decisions will be made on an individual site basis and will take into consideration the safety of doing so, the impact on local communities, and will continue to follow government advice. We ask people to be patient with us whilst we carry out these activities.
“In line with the advice from devolved governments our woods in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are open for local visitors only. Please do not drive to visit a wood or meet with people outside your household. We ask people across the UK to please continue to maintain social distancing and take any litter home with you.”
Emma Marsh, Director, RSPB England, said:
“Since the prime minister’s announcement, we have been consulting with governments, members, employees, and volunteers on how and when to reopen our sites. While we are champing at the bit to get our nature reserves back up and running, our main priority is to do this safely for visitors and the incredible nature people come to enjoy.
“As we are taking a gradual and phased approach, our reserves remain closed for now. We ask everyone to bear with us in these difficult times and check our websites for updates. Please consider staying local, but if you are intending to visit the countryside, be cautious and consider avoiding busy places at peak times. Please remember also that the countryside is a working environment, so don’t put the people who live there at increased risk. And of course, be aware that this is the peak bird breeding season, so keep dogs under close control and be aware especially of ground-nesting birds.”