Walkers and cyclists descended on beauty spots in Surrey this afternoon as car parks overflowed amid concerns of overcrowding during the third national lockdown.
Cars lined the road outside Box Hill in the North Downs as families, couples and dog walkers made the most of a day off, being furloughed or the schools being shut as they went for a stroll around the nature reserve.
But local residents are worried about the huge number of cars in the area, people not socially distancing and visitors potentially infecting locals with Covid-19 in an area that has so far escaped relatively unscathed.
It comes as Government guidance asked people to stay within their ‘local areas’. A statement reads: ‘If you do leave home for a permitted reason, you should always stay local – unless it is necessary to go further, for example to go to work. Stay local means stay in the village, town, or part of the city where you live.’
Nevertheless, Londoners are believed to be pouring into beauty spots in the surrounding countryside, including Boxhill, Leith Hill and Ranmoor in Surrey.
Box Hill is popular with visitors for its panoramic views, wildlife and plants, while it is also a favourite spot for cyclists after featuring on the route of the 2012 London Olympics road race events.
The main car park remained open today, costing £3 for two hours or £4 for four hours, after the National Trust originally closed it during the first lockdown – which, at the time, resulted in cars clogging up local roads instead.
David Preedy, a local councillor who represents Box Hill on Mole Valley District Council, told MailOnline today that he had received 40 complaints from residents in the area about issues at the site since the pandemic began.
People gather and look out from a viewing point at Box Hill National Trust nature reserve in Surrey this afternoon
Cars are parked on a road leading to Box Hill nature reserve in Surrey this afternoon which is busy with visitors
Vehicles parked in the car park at Box Hill nature reserve in Surrey which costs £3 for two hours or £4 for four hours
He said: ‘It’s been a problem ever since the first lockdown finished. I do understand people who are stuck in flats in the city and need to get out at the countryside and I have tremendous sympathy for them.
‘It’s not just Box Hill. On a Sunday in December, I went round Leith Hill and Ranmoor in Surrey and they were all packed. Every verge you could park on, there was a car parked. Box Hill is in my patch so I am concerned about it.’
‘Stay local’: Government rules ask people to stay near their homes during the national lockdown
Britons have been asked to stay in their local areas for the third national lockdown.
Government guidance states no one should be travelling outside their town or village except for a few exemptions – including work.
A statement on the Government website reads: ‘If you do leave home for a permitted reason, you should always stay local – unless it is necessary to go further, for example to go to work.
‘Stay local means stay in the village, town, or part of the city where you live.’
People can only leave their homes for the following permitted reasons:
- Shop for basic necessities, for you or a vulnerable person;
- Go to work, or provide voluntary or charitable services, if you cannot reasonably do so from home;
- Exercise with your household (or support bubble) or one other person, this should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area;
- Meet your support bubble or childcare bubble where necessary, but only if you are legally permitted to form one;
- Seek medical assistance or avoid injury, illness or risk of harm (including domestic abuse);
- Attend education or childcare – for those eligible.
The National Trust has confirmed its gardens, parks and countryside in England will remain open during the lockdown for local people to exercise. Its shops will close but some cafes will offer takeaway.
A booking system remains in place for some sites – but not Box Hill – to restrict capacity and help with social distancing. All National Trust places in Wales are currently closed while houses in Northern Ireland are also shut.
Speaking about Box Hill this afternoon, Mr Preedy added: ‘There are three levels of concern. One is the sheer number of vehicles outstripping parking capacity, and we’ve got very narrow roads.
‘With Box Hill, basically it’s a small village on the top of the North Downs, there is one road that goes through it, and at the western end it goes into the National Trust area and it’s a private road that goes through a zigzag and is the core of where the Olympics cycling event happened.
‘Because it’s a private road, the National Trust are free to close it if they want. If that’s closed, Box Hill is at the end of a mile-and-a-half cul-de-sac.
‘In the summer, because the parking was so random, the bus couldn’t turn there, so they had to stop running the bus. That has probably happened about eight times over the last six months and it was happening in November.
‘It’s a real problem we’re facing as a result of overcrowding and we’re worried about emergency services not being able to get through.
‘Then we’ve got if the crowds are coming are socially distanced. I’m not going to go when it is crowded, but I do get reports and that suggests they aren’t distancing all the time.
‘The third issue is whether this influx of people is going to introduce Covid to communities who have remained relatively untouched.
‘Because we’re a remote community and we’ve got the benefit of going for a walk in the countryside, we’re lucky to have been very lightly let off with it. So we’re very concerned.
‘Part of the problem is the communication from the Government is not clear how far is reasonable to go for a walk as part of your daily exercise. It’s a lot of people from London, I assume, and it’s also still a cycling mecca.
‘It’s a day midweek, loads of people are working – and still loads of cyclists. At the peak when it’s busy they stop at the viewpoint of the National Trust.
‘Again I understand they want to take a ride and want to get their exercise, but at the places where they do stop they’re not being able to be socially distanced.
‘The National Trust are cutting back on staff, they don’t have the staff to manage it, the police don’t have the numbers to do it, and we don’t have limitless Covid martials to go round.
A family go for a walk at Box Hill nature reserve in Surrey this afternoon which is busy with visitors today
Couples and cyclists alike enjoy the surroundings of Box Hill nature reserve as they pay a visit to the site in Surrey today
Two people walk a dog through Box Hill nature reserve this afternoon as they go out for their daily exercise
People queue for a takeaway coffee at a cafe on the Box Hill site in Surrey this afternoon which remains open to visitors
A family look at a parking meter at Box Hill car park in Surrey this afternoon as England’s third lockdown continues
People buy takeaway refreshments this afternoon at a cafe at Box Hill nature reserve which is operated by the National Trust
‘It’s a real problem and I’m sure it’s happening in other areas particularly those accessible from cities. Box Hill particularly is a destination that a lot of people know.
‘In the original lockdown, the National Trust shut the car parks but people ended up parking on the roads. They closed off both ends of the road, but it pushes the problem elsewhere.’
A National Trust spokesman told MailOnline: ‘We continue to work hard to keep the places we care for open, safe and clean for visitors. But we need everyone’s help to stay open safely.
‘We fully understand the need for people to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and we are pleased to be able to welcome visitors to our outdoor places.
‘But when lots of us do this this can have a huge impact on local communities as well as the emergency services.
‘We will be carefully monitoring visitor levels during the week and will close our café at short notice (currently open for takeaways only) if the area becomes crowded.
‘The café will however be closed at weekends in an effort to help potential crowding issues. We have taken the decision to keep our car parks open to limit displaced parking in surrounding villages and roadsides.
‘We continue to urge people to follow government guidelines and to keep to their local green spaces for exercise.’
A dog walker looks out at the view on Box Hill nature reserve this afternoon which is popular with visitors
Cars are parked on the road outside Box Hill nature reserve this afternoon as visitors flock there for their daily exercise
Cyclists and walkers enjoy the fresh air as they go for exercise at Box Hill nature reserve in Surrey this afternoon
Visitors flock to Box Hill from London and elsewhere to enjoy the panoramic views across the North Downs
During the first lockdown, the National Trust began its phased reopening of some gardens and parklands in England on June 3, with 29 sites opening their gates.
Meanwhile English Heritage today revealed 19 major castles, houses and monuments it will keep open during the country’s third national lockdown for people to use for exercise.
The grounds of sites such as Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, Walmer Castle in Kent and Longtown Castle in Herefordshire will be remaining open to the public.
Londoners will be allowed to stroll through the grounds of Eltham Palace near Greenwich, Kenwood House in Hampstead and Marble Hill House in Twickenham.
Those living in other parts of South East England can go to the gardens at Audley End in Essex, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight and Wrest Park in Bedfordshire.
The announcement comes as the Government revealed people will still be able to visit public gardens and the grounds of a heritage site during the new lockdown.
They will be allowed to visit with members of their household or support bubble, and can attend with one person from another household if they are on their own.
Other sites remaining open include Arbor Low Stone Circle and Gib Hill Barrow in the Peak District, Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire and Iron Bridge in Shropshire.
Also on the list are Mattersey Priory in Nottinghamshire, Byland Abbey in North Yorkshire and Castlerigg Stone Circle in Shropshire.
Further sites include Egglestone Abbey in County Durham, Furness Abbey in Cumbria, the grounds of Brodsworth Hall in South Yorkshire and Tynemouth Priory and Castle in Tyne and Wear.
A total of 200 free-to-enter English Heritage sites will remain open, with the 19 major ones highlighted today.
English Heritage car parks will generally be closed if the site is shut, although some are operated by local councils so they may still be open.
All members and other visitors must book tickets in advance to staffed sites with limitations placed on numbers.
Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire has existed for 900 years and went from medieval fortress to Elizabethan palace. The site features a mighty Norman keep and a majestic Great Hall
Osborne House on the Isle of Wight is the palatial former holiday home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, which features a colourful walled garden and a shaded woodland walk
An English Heritage spokesman said today: ‘We are keeping a selection of sites open for local people to use for exercise during the lockdown period.
‘All these sites have plenty of outdoor space for safe social distancing. As before, visits to staffed sites must be booked in advance and numbers will be limited.
‘Please stay local, bear in mind the government’s latest advice, and be aware that you should not travel outside of your local area.’
Staff urged people to avoid visiting if they or anyone in their household are displaying symptoms of Covid-19.
They also asked visitors to follow government and site guidelines on social distancing and hygiene, queue alone if they can and keep an eye on children.
However some local residents near open sites have raised concerns that people will travel long distances to visit them despite the rules on local-only travel.
Julie McGrory, of Silsoe in Bedfordshire, where Wrest Park is located, asked English Heritage on Twitter: ‘Are you able to confirm you’ll be checking it’s only local people booking tickets in their relevant village? In Silsoe our residents remain concerned people will travel to us despite the rules on travel.’
Another Twitter user asked: ‘It’s a good point – what also constitutes as local? Kenilworth Castle is 10 miles away from me – is that local?’
And English Heritage replied: ‘We’re asking everyone to follow government guidance before planning a visit. The government hasn’t defined what counts as a local visit, so unfortunately we’re not able to advise on how far you should travel.’
Marble Hill House in Twickenham, South West London, is set in 66 acres of riverside parkland. It was built for Henrietta Howard, mistress of King George II when he was Prince of Wales
Walmer Castle in Kent features eight acres of award-winning gardens and was once a Tudor artillery fortress. It became a stately-home for the Lords Warden of the Cinque Ports
Eltham Palace near Greenwich in South East London features 19 acres of gardens and a striking Art Deco mansion. It was once a favoured medieval palace and then a Tudor royal residence
English Heritage replied: ‘We understand your concerns and we’re opening Wrest Park for local people for exercise only. We’re asking everyone to kindly follow the government guidance when planning a visit.’
Tickets will need to be booked online in advance for the grounds of Brodsworth Hall, Tynemouth Priory, Furness Abbey, Kenilworth Castle, Wrest Park, Audley End, Osborne, Walmer Castle and Eltham Palace.
Just before the first lockdown began last year, English Heritage initially closed all its sites from March 18 until May 1. This was then extended as the lockdown continued, before it opened six sites across the country on June 13.
A further 45 sites were opened at the start of July, with most of the rest opening by August, although some stayed shut.
Heritage organisations have seen their income plummet during the pandemic with the Government giving them a financial boost last October to help.
The £103million funding supported 445 organisations to carry out repair and maintenance work on cherished heritage sites to keep the venues running.
Twelve organisations, including English Heritage and Historic Royal Palaces, received £34million to restart construction and maintenance projects.