Lockdown Lifting Sees Increase in Problem Behaviour

© Rob Greenwood

The return of large numbers of people to national parks and other upland areas in England has brought a spike in littering, wildfires and mountain rescue incidents. Some issues appear to be worse than during equivalent periods in past years, and it's possible that the relaxation of Coronavirus restrictions has acted like a cork popping from a bottle.

The fire at the weekend at Bamford Edge was one of several in the Peak District  © Rob Greenwood
The fire at the weekend at Bamford Edge was one of several in the Peak District
© Rob Greenwood

In the Peak District, several large moorland fires took place over the weekend, causing extensive environmental damage at a time when the moors have rarely been drier, following the sunniest UK spring on record.

These fires aren't being started by climbers or hillwalkers. So how do we communicate with those outside our own echo chamber?

Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service, among other local services, has attended multiple wildfire incidents, as well as reports of camp fires and discarded BBQs. According to authorities there is clear evidence in at least some cases of large fires being sparked by abandoned barbeques.

In one incident last night off the Snake Pass road firefighters located three separate camp fires and four barbecues lit on dry moorland. "All were extinguished and advice was given to the individuals in attendence" they say.

"The devastating impacts from discarded BBQs have been made starkly clear in recent days and weeks, affecting landscapes and wildlife at the heart of the UK's first National Park" said the Peak District National Park Authority.

The Park has called for retailers and petrol stations across the Peak District to voluntarily remove disposable barbecues from sale.

Our own Rob Greenwood, who lives locally, witnessed the large fire at Bamford Edge over the weekend.

"It's been a strange few weeks within the Peak District, with the contrast between life pre and post lockdown being quite stark" he writes.

"Whilst everyone was stuck indoors the Peak was (unsurprisingly) very quiet; however, ever since the easing of the lockdown occurred every day has been like a bank holiday - weekend and weekday alike.

"Being based in Bamford it's been noticeable on several levels, the first being the ambient noise as a result of increased traffic (particularly from the large groups of motorbikes). The second is the parking problems in/around key 'honeypot' areas such as Ladybower, where etiquette has well and truly been thrown out the window. Police have been ticketing cars left, right and centre due to poor parking and my advice to anyone would be that if a given car park is full, go elsewhere.

"Another particularly noticeable factor of life post lockdown has been the amount of litter left lying around. This has been particularly noticeable up on the Edges, where I've frequently been bringing home a bag full. As such, this weekend's fire felt like something of an inevitability, because given what I'd seen I knew it was going to happen somewhere - it's just a shame it happened on my doorstep.

Damage was extensive but it could have been worse  © Rob Greenwood
Damage was extensive but it could have been worse
© Rob Greenwood

"That said, we are - dare I say it - lucky it happened where it did. Due to a combination of factors, namely the easterly breeze and the fire's location within the ancient woodland at the base of the crag, the fire service were able to get control of it far quicker than if it had been on open moorland. Whilst I'm not saying it's a good thing - it's terrible news all around - it could have been a lot LOT worse had it have stared elsewhere.

"This leaves us with some big questions to answer, namely that of how do we communicate with those outside our own echo chamber? This rubbish, and these fires, aren't being started by climbers or hillwalkers, they're being started by individuals, friends and families who just want to be outside somewhere nice, but for reasons that I find unfathomable don't put two and two together about why it's wrong to litter or how BBQs - looked at in another light - aren't just a fire waiting to happen, they actually are a fire!"

"With that in mind it would seem that we have a lot of wider societal questions to ask regarding a respect for the countryside code, but that's a big question that is potentially best explored in a separate article."

The influx of visitors is having other unwelcome effects. Since the UK Government's COVID-19 lockdown policy changes came into effect in England, Peak District Mountain Rescue Teams have seen a "significant rise" in the number of callouts for their volunteers, with 37 incidents in roughly a two-week period.

Over in Cumbria, police have cited "significant problems" over the weekend in the Lake District, with poor parking, fires, litter and camping/camper van use. The latter is contrary to the current Coronavirus measures in England, which do not permit overnight stays.

"In some cases emergency services vehicles were impeded or would have been unable to access some locations if required, due to abandoned vehicles" they said in a Facebook post.

"Again camping has been a problem across the area with tents, campervans and motorhomes in rural locations. The Government has released new guidance on gatherings, public spaces and outdoor activities with the changes in lockdown restrictions. This guidance... make[s] it clear that all overnight stays away from home are still prohibited."

Problem parking in the Lake District over the weekend   © Cumbria Police
Problem parking in the Lake District over the weekend
© Cumbria Police

The use of disposable barbecues and lighting of fires has caused problems across Cumbria, according to police, at a time of extreme fire risk. Recent fires in moorland areas illustrate the problem, they say.

"The dumping of disposable barbecues, bottles, toilet waste and other litter has also caused problems in communities, particularly for the National Trust Wardens and National Park Rangers who have cleared up 130 refuse bags full of rubbish from beauty spots in the Lake District this weekend."

Similar issues were reported from the RSPB reserve at Haweswater:

"After reports of groups of campers, our limited staff visited the site to find felled trees, intentionally collapsed dry-stone walls, BBQs, still-smouldering fires and litter" they posted on Facebook.

Campfire detritus from the weekend  © RSPB Haweswater
Campfire detritus from the weekend
© RSPB Haweswater

Of course, where there are lots of people there will inevitably be some issues. So does the influx of crowds represent anything more than a return to the norm?

The 37 call-outs for Mountain Rescue Teams across the Peak District between 18th May - 31st May are a big increase, compared with only eight callouts collectively for the same period in 2019.

In Cumbria, Assistant Chief Constable Andrew Slattery suggested that a large proportion of the recent increase in people coming to the Lake District has been made up of first time visitors.

He said: "As the lockdown measures are eased across the country and foreign holidays are not available, many people are choosing to visit the Lakes and Dales but we appeal to all visitors to respect the environment and the local communities.

"Surveys conducted by the National Park Authority over the weekend show that 68 per cent of the visitors would not normally have come to the Lakes and many had never visited before, so we want to stress how important it is for new visitors to protect this World Heritage Site. With so many travelling at a time when most food outlets and most toilets are still closed, it is vital that people behave in a responsible and considerate manner.

"We all hope that the tourist economy can start to open up soon and cater for all who want to visit our fantastic national parks but potential visitors need to understand how facilities are still limited. Until camp sites and holiday accommodation are allowed to open, people should not plan to stay overnight in contravention of the Coronavirus Regulations.

"Social distancing must be observed at all times, vehicles must be parked legally and considerately and visitors must take their rubbish away to be disposed of safely and responsibly. Roads blocked by parked cars and piles of discarded bottles and barbecues on the lakeshores are not acceptable. Now, more than ever, it is vital that visitors care for the area and leave nothing but footprints."

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2 Jun, 2020

What the national parks need to be doing is campaigning for the very early re-opening of the Trafford centre, meadowhall and the metro centre.

That should tempt the scum away from the outdoors

2 Jun, 2020

I do wish that when comparing accident numbers from previous years some effort was made to normalise the figures to account for varying weather. It would be more useful to compare figures with those from 2018 when we had a similar long hot and dry spell. Looking at my logbook from May last year, we had a day at Moughton Nab (people climbing in jumpers), a day at Brimham (we spent half of it under a roof sheltering from torrential rain), one sunny day at Moughton, a pleasant evening in the Rocky Valley, and a May Bank Holiday where we went to the Lakes for a stag do: those of us arriving on the Friday climbed in glorious sunshine on Troutdale Pinnacle; the rest of the weekend was spent dodging showers on Sergeant Crag Slabs (mid afternoon rain) and scratching around the Bowderstone and Honister Boulders trying to find some dry rock. Compare that to this year where we've had two months of no significant rainfall and people being confined to quarters. Of course the callout figures are higher this year, but how much higher than 2018?

2 Jun, 2020

I've just read a related discussion in a Facebook mountaineering/walking group - there we had "chavs", "the great unwashed", "scum", and someone who wanted the "scum" classed as "vermin" so he could "shoot them on sight" and so on. References to shopping centres and Benidorm there as well.

I don't think them and us, particularly when it seems to have a class aspect to it, is very helpful. Look at Rob's comments in the article about echo chambers - we can fume and dehumanize other people in our little outdoorsy bubbles but what's that going to do help anyway?

It feels a bit like how "cyclists" (lycra louts, MAMILs, red-light jumping scum etc.) have been turned into a group, which is then easy to hate. We've seen how particularly certain commentators and newspapers do that, and it means they aren't anymore just being seen as people who happen for that hour to be riding a bike.

I see plenty of litter and ridiculous behaviour around the parts of the Peak District where I live, but it's not everyone who isn't a "normal walker/climber/cyclist" who is doing it.

2 Jun, 2020

Fair point, I was just feeling pretty angry. I don't necessarily think it's a class thing though anybody who starts a fire/leaves litter is scummy if they arrived in a Bentley or a Corsa

2 Jun, 2020

This is very sad to see, Bamford was pristine a couple of weeks ago with birds everywhere.

Last week on a local walk we saw some young guys picnicking by the river. By the time we returned they had left and chucked their disposable barbeque under the nearest hedge next to an old oak. I was fortunate I looked closely and found it and was able to make it safe and remove the rubbish.

I was obviously very angry but since then I've been thinking. This incident was a turning point for me. I'm always saddened by litter but despite thinking about it I've never got so far as picking it up and removing it. I've decided that from now on - especially with such massive increased pressure - it's my responsibility. And I'm going to start taking bags/gloves with me and remove litter where I can. I want them to be my crags, so the litter is my problem.


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