The following is a press release sent out by ENPA

As we head into summer and Covid-19 restrictions continue to ease, Exmoor Rangers have seen a notable increase in people visiting the National Park for the first time. With retail and hospitality outlets shut and after weeks of being cooped up indoors, it seems many are taking up the Government’s advice to find enjoyment in the outdoors through picnics, sunbathing and walks in the countryside.

It’s a phenomenon affecting beauty spots around the country, with one survey by the Lake District National Park Authority finding that 68 per cent of last weekend’s visitors would not normally have come to the Lakes and many had never visited before.

Local services are also feeling the pressure from all the extra visitors, with Devon and Somerset Fire & Rescue Service reporting a sharp spike in call-outs to fires in the open compared with this time last year. Moorland fires in the summer breeding season spread quickly and can be devastating to ground-nesting birds and other wildlife. When conditions are dry, they can start from something as simple as a disposable BBQ, cigarette stub or glass bottle.

Dan Barnett, Exmoor National Park Access & Recreation Manager, said: “Over the years National Parks have worked tirelessly in all sorts of ways to reach out to new audiences, but it’s taken a global pandemic to really shift the demographic. Whether a newcomer or seasoned to the outdoors, we welcome you and urge everyone to follow the Countryside Code and public health advice to help you enjoy the National Park safely. And it’s not just coronavirus that poses a risk – from avoiding tick bites to walking the dog, follow us on social media or head to our website to find out all you need to know.

“It’s clear that most people are being respectful, with almost no littering at places like Tarr Steps despite the high footfall. But elsewhere our rangers are taking away whole trailer loads of litter, spent BBQs, cigarettes and other flammable waste, discarded with little thought for local communities or the environmental damage that could result from a summer wildfire. A small minority also seem to be flouting the rules around social distancing and overnight stays, which risks spreading the virus. We’re working hard with police, landowners and other partners to address these issues and encourage care for the countryside.”

Sarah Bryan, Chief Executive of Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “Being away from the people and places we love has taken a terrible toll on this country. For many it has meant months of social isolation and worry, with a shocking 1 in 8 households having spent this time with no access to a garden according to ONS figures. In the aftermath we’re all learning to find our way in this ‘new normal’. It’s throwing up some challenges but also the opportunity to engage groups who, until now, may have felt completely alienated by the countryside. In doing so we are building a stronger more sustainable future for these special places for the benefit of everyone.”

For more information about visiting Exmoor National Park safely see: www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/about-us/covid-19-exmoor or follow @ExmoorNP on Twitter and Facebook and @exmoor_national_park on Instagram.