Beauty spot hit by 'significant' erosion as walkers stray off footpaths
- Credit: Alison Joseph
Walkers straying off footpaths to socially distance during the coronavirus crisis have caused erosion a popular Suffolk beauty spot - potentially causing "lasting damage" to wildlife.
The National Trust said Dunwich Heath had been "significantly affected" by the problem, with ranger Lloyd James saying: "The sandy soil has been eroded and the path has significantly widened in recent months, as more people move off designated paths to socially distance."
Some 50cm paths have more than doubled in width, with fears the damage to nearby grassland could further reduce the population of nesting skylarks and destroy breeding habitats for dartford warblers.
Additional signage and fencing helped to prevent further problems.
However, the trust is now urging people to walk single file along the bridleways to prevent further erosion.
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It has also warned it may need to raise extra money to repair damage at a time of huge financial pressure on charities.
“This area of heathland is particularly sensitive as it’s home to nesting skylarks," Mr James said.
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"It only takes a few people to use a passing area before the vegetation is destroyed and becomes unrecoverable.
“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.”
Rob Rhodes, head of countryside management at the National Trust, says: “We want to do everything we can to encourage more people to get outdoors and to be active and to engage with nature.
“A rare positive of the coronavirus pandemic is how we’ve witnessed thousands more people get out and about as and when government restrictions allow to enjoy the countryside.
“Many of our sites are currently 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, and we want to help people understand how each and every one of us can play a role in looking after these beautiful places.
“We recognise that people are getting fed up with having so many rules to follow, but if we can all play our part by looking after our paths, then we can ensure more people can enjoy them all the year round – and that they can remain open and accessible.”
For more information and to donate to the National Trust’s latest Give Back to Nature appeal which includes conservation work like pathway maintenance, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk