VISITORS to the New Forest are being urged to treat the area "with respect" following the reopening of car parks.

Coastal car parks owned by the district council and inland facilities operated by Forestry England are being used for the first time since the lockdown was imposed on March 23.

Many of the car parks are in the area are governed by the Lymington-based National Park Authority (NPA).

The chairman, former Official Verderer Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre, said: "We're asking people to respect and care for the New Forest and its communities at this critical time.

New Forest Post:

"Our priority is to keep people and the Forest safe and so we are working with partners to lift the restrictions carefully and in a measured way.

"As the Prime Minister has said, the new rules are only going to work if everyone acts responsibly and uses common sense.

"In a national park context that means that when out in the Forest everyone must continue to respect and observe the social distancing rules.

"Our partners are opening a number of their car parks. But in line with government restrictions pubs, campsites, restaurants and hotels remain closed, along with public toilets.

"It is also important that visitors remember that the hospitality and leisure businesses are not likely to open before July.

"The Forest is also on an amber fire warning due to the recent dry weather so no barbecues are allowed and we ask that, as always, people respect the vulnerable areas that are closed to protect ground nesting birds, stick to the designated routes when cycling, keep their distance from New Forest animals and follow the countryside code."

New Forest Post:

Many of the car parks were busy yesterday, including Hatchet Pond, near Beaulieu, and Pig Bush, near Lyndhurst.

Meanwhile owers of the Forest's free-roaming animals have highlighted the problems caused during the weeks when the facilities were closed.

The Commoners' Defence Association (CDA) said motorists prevented using the facilities had parked elsewhere, damaging protected habitats as well as blocking emergency access gates.

The CDA represents 700 people whose animals graze the Forest and help give the area its iconic character.

Members initially supported Forestry England's decision to close its car parks as part of the lockdown but the group's chairman, Tony Hockley, said the harm caused by people parking on verges and blocking gateways was “substantial”.

Some of the car parks are still closed to protect ground-nesting birds and other types of wildlife.