National Parks brace for ‘staycation’ summer

With foreign travel this summer looking tenuous at best, the UK is set for another staycation holiday season, with millions of frustrated holidaymakers looking to Britain’s outdoor spaces to provide some relief from the weeks of restrictions and lockdowns due to Covid. Will we see a repeat of the problems witnessed last summer, with ‘dirty camping’ and over-crowding being major issues in the National Parks, or will authorities be able to step up efforts to persuade visitors to act responsibly during their holidays?

Tom Hind is chief executive of North York Moors national park and is leading a joint response by the nation’s national parks to prepare for the coming summer. “Last year was a year like no other and national parks were particular hotspots in terms of visitors,” he told The Guardian recently. “Understandably, people wanted to get out. That was a massive challenge for many national park authorities. It also had significant upsides. It’s rekindled a level of interest in national parks that we haven’t seen in previous years and brought new people who have never visited before.”

While renewed interest in the National Parks is welcome, as is the increase in people participating in outdoor activities, what are the authorities doing to make sure last summer’s scenes aren’t repeated? In the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park, a score of extra toilets have been introduced (with more planned) and the park authorities are running a campaign to educate visitors on burying their poo, even providing visitors with a special pack that includes biodegrable bags to use. Meanwhile in the Cairngorms, the national park is said to be investing £1m in extra staffing, increased car parking capacity, upgraded paths and traffic-calming measures. Other parks are relying on PR campaigns to educate visitors on how to behave when visiting their areas, whether that’s advice on finding places to park, keeping dogs on leads where livestock is present, or using volunteers to give on-the-ground advice to visitors who may be new to outdoor pursuits and would benefit from some guidance.

One of the busiest places in the country has been Snowdonia National Park, and in particular Snowdon itself, with parking at Pen-y-Pass a particular problem resulting in the surrounding roads being choked with illegally parked cars. As a result of these problems, there will be a new booking system for parking spaces at Pen-y-Pass, and also an enhanced park-and-ride system that will shuttle walkers to and from larger carparks to the beginning of their walks.

As Tom Hind acknowledges, it’s going to be a tough job to cater for so many visitors over the summer period without causing damage to the parks and disturbance to its residents, however with last year’s experience the hope is that things go better this summer: “We’re trying to strike a difficult balance,” said Hind. “On the one hand we want to welcome people back to the countryside, realising how important it is to health and wellbeing. At the same time we are trying to avoid downsides where there are excess visitors to a particular location and do that in a way that is sensitive to local communities.”

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