Hundreds of illegal overnight capers are blighting Cornwall’s National Trust car parks leaving behind a trail of destruction and rubbish.
The charity has reported, for example, that it turned away 140 campervans from 10 small and remote sites in west Cornwall in just a week.
It cited an unprecedented rise in “fly-camping” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic as halting conservation work and putting nature at risk.
With more people than ever likely to “staycation” this summer, rangers are having to clean up after increasing numbers of people camping illegally. Many have a “disposable festival mentality”, the National Trust said – dumping tents and camping equipment, lighting fires and damaging trees.
A fifth of rangers’ time has been diverted away from vital conservation work, the trust said.
Since the easing of lockdown restrictions in England tourist hot spots including in the 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.
The 140 campers in west Cornwall was double or triple what the trust would normally expect.
Steve Sudworth, lead ranger along the north Cornwall 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, barbecues 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.”
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.
“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.
“We want to remind people to follow the countryside code and that they should only camp overnight with a landowner’s permission.”