Western Morning News
Lockdown visitors wrecking ancient Dartmoor woodland
LOCKDOWN visitors are causing ‘irreparable’ damage to an ancient Devon wood by starting fires, stripping trees of moss and even using it as the venue for a wedding.
Stunning Wistman’s Wood remains one of Dartmoor’s most unspoiled areas and its moss-covered trees and dwarf oak trees are thought to resemble what Dartmoor looked like as far back as 7000BC.
But it has become a ‘mecca’ for people looking to get out and about during lockdown and that is causing severe damage to the area, according to Devon councillor and park warden Philip Sanders.
He said rubbish is being left, while lichen – which takes centuries to grow – is being stripped from trees for ‘hanging baskets’.
“Until recently only local people really knew about it, but what with coronavirus restrictions this year, people have been coming from further afield,” he told Mailonline.
“I don’t want to discourage people from coming and enjoying Dartmoor, but more recently many people that having been coming to Wistman’s Wood are not interested in conservation.
“It’s been since the first lockdown really. We had problems before but not on this scale. Up to 400 people are visiting it every day.
“Moss and lichen is being taken, which is illegal and I’m guessing for hanging baskets.
“The route to Wistman’s Wood is a footpath, it’s not a bridleway yet people have been taking mountain bikes down there. The damage that is being done is irreparable.”
The wood was given protection as a site of special scientific interest in 1964 and is managed by Natural England. But in the weeks after the first lockdown, rangers collected more dumped rubbish than they usually would over the course of a year at the site.
A short-term ban on wild camping was even introduced over the summer after an increase in rubbish being left, which included fly-tipping and human waste.
Police have been stepping up their patrols around Dartmoor in a bid to catch people breaching Covid-19 lockdown rules by venturing further from home than they should for exercise.
“This is a protected area not a playground but that is how it is being used. There needs to he some respect for the landscape,” continued Cllr Sanders.
“People are ruining the thing that they are going to Dartmoor for.”
A Natural England spokesperson said: “We urge people to follow the Countryside Code and respect the communities and environment that make up this iconic part of our country.
“Most people want to do the right thing and we will do all we can to help them by promoting positive behaviour – such as through the ‘Respect, Protect, Enjoy’ principles, which encourage visitors to protect our outdoor spaces for everyone to enjoy.”