One of Britain’s most famous ancient forests has been ruined by lockdown visitors holding weddings, littering and stripping moss from the trees for their hanging baskets.
Wistman’s Wood on Dartmoor, Devon, which has remained unspoiled for hundreds of years, has become a ‘mecca’ for gatherings, camping trips and even weddings during the coronavirus shutdowns.
Devon county councillor Philip Sanders, a Dartmoor National Park member, said up to 400 people are visiting the area – which is renowned for its twisted and moss-covered dwarf oak trees – every day.
The wood has been the inspiration for artists, poets and photographers, and what remains is likely to be left-over from the ancient forest that covered much of Dartmoor in around 7000 BC.
Cllr Sanders: ‘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.
‘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.’
One of Britain’s most famous ancient forests has been ruined by lockdown visitors holding weddings, littering and stripping moss from the trees. Pictured, stock photo
Wistman’s Wood on Dartmoor, Devon, which has remained unspoiled for hundreds of years, has become a ‘mecca’ for gatherings, camping trips and even weddings during the coronavirus shutdowns. Pictured, stock photo
The upland oak wood covered in moss is a site of special scientific interest and internationally important because of its distinctive plant and animal communities. It is managed by Natural England.
Cllr Sanders said: ‘Until recently only local people really knew about it but what with coronavirus restrictions this year people have been coming from further afield.’
He added that he was not happy that a wedding ceremony had been held there in the summer and claimed the damage to a foodpath used as a bridleway is ‘irreparable’.
‘Moss and lichen is being taken, which is illegal and I’m guessing for hanging baskets,’ said the councillor. ‘This takes hundreds of years to grow.
‘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.’
Cllr Sanders said there had always been a small problem with litter but that had magnified over the last 12 months.
‘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,’ he said.
In the summer, wild camping was banned at Bellever on Dartmoor following a dramatic rise in anti-social behaviour with people dumping litter, tents and even human waste on the land.
The wood has been the inspiration for artists, poets and photographers, and what remains is likely to be left-over from the ancient forest that covered much of Dartmoor in around 7000 BC. Pictured, stock photo
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.
Dartmoor National Park used emergency powers to introduce a ban which ran for a month in a bid to help the area recover.
Cllr Sanders said Dartmoor National Park was looking at ways in which the situation could be controlled at Wistman’s Wood, with additional signage being one of them.
A spokesperson for Defra 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.
A spokesperson for Dartmoor National Park said: ‘Dartmoor National Park continues to work hard to encourage and promote positive visitor behaviour and supporting all landowners and managers.’
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