Footpaths 'are being ruined by social distancing' National Trust warns

Footpaths ‘are being ruined by social distancing’: Hikers are causing devastating erosion to landscapes as they wander off trails to keep clear of others, National Trust warns

  • By walking off paths visitors are damaging landscapes and wildlife the Trust said
  • National Trust advises single file and waiting for others by standing aside
  • An official at the Trust said they are seeing three times the usual visitor numbers than they would on a busy summer’s day during the coronavirus pandemic 

Social distancing on footpaths is causing devastating erosion, the National Trust warned yesterday.

Visitors are damaging landscapes and wildlife as they wander off trails – a problem exacerbated by much higher numbers embracing the countryside.

Rob Rhodes, head of countryside management at the trust, said: ‘Many of our sites are seeing three times the usual number of visitors they would get on a busy summer’s day.

‘However, landscapes are more susceptible to damage at this time of year due to the colder and wetter weather.’

The trust advises walking in single file and waiting for others by standing aside but not leaving a trail.

At Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire a walking route around a lake has almost doubled in width in some places, damaging the grass and vegetation.

Visitors are damaging landscapes and wildlife as they wander off trails – a problem exacerbated by much higher numbers embracing the countryside, the National Trust have warned. Pictured: Members of the public walk in the grounds of the National Trust’s Dunham Massey Park in March

Programme Manager Joanne Backshall said that in some areas deep erosion is scarring the landscape.

She said: ‘We are absolute advocates of the benefits that spending time in nature can bring, so it’s wonderful to see so many people enjoying the great outdoors this year.

‘It is also fantastic to have witnessed so many people putting safety first as they step aside to allow a safe, social distance for fellow walkers. What people might not realise however, is that stepping off, and then continuing to walk off the path, is starting to erode the landscape at a rapid rate.

‘Ensuring everyone’s safety is our top priority and we’re asking everyone to adhere to government guidelines around social distancing. Our top advice for walkers when encountering others is to walk single file. 

‘If you need to step aside to let others pass at a safe distance, please stop, wait and then return to the path before continuing your walk.’

She added: ‘Once vegetation is lost through erosion, soil and stone can quickly wash off the hillside. This general loss of habitat and degradation can affect species like the mountain ringlet butterfly which feeds on acid grassland, or ring ouzels. It can also affect other rare mountain plants already at risk and living at the very edge of their range.

‘Degradation also has a harmful impact on the rivers and lakes below. Sediment washed off the hillside can cover the gravel in ivers and lakes used by fish to lay their eggs, reducing their breeding habitat. Sediment will also impact insect numbers, which in turn will attract less birds and affect plant numbers.’

Rangers at Leigh Woods, a 65-hectare (120-acre) National Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest on the outskirts of Bristol, have seen extensive damage to pathways which have increased from two to 12 metres wide in the worst places, as people try to avoid the muddiest sections.

Pictured: A young cyclist riding through an avenue of pine trees leading to the Victorian kitchen gardens in Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire

Coastal footpaths at Dunwich Heath in Suffolk, paths at Morden Hall Park in south London and parkland at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire have also been affected.

Gareth Jones, Lead Ranger at the 3,800 acre Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire, said: ‘One of our most popular walking routes is around the lake. As people have tried to create more space for social distancing, it has almost doubled in width in some places. 

‘This is damaging the grass and vegetation, which is not good from a conservation and land management point of view.

‘Some people have sought quieter routes and left official pathways altogether. This can disturb the wildlife as well as erode the soil across the fragile heathland habitats of Clumber Park.’

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