SHOPS and garages across the New Forest are refusing to sell disposable barbecues in a bid to reduce the risk of visitors starting fires.

At least 18 businesses are backing a campaign launched by the New Forest National Park Authority (NPA), which is anxious to prevent blazes breaking out in the tinder-dry conditions.

The NPA says support for the campaign means the three main villages - Ashurst, Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst - are now "disposable BBQ-free".

An NPA spokesperson said: "Retailers large and small across the Forest and beyond are backing the ban and are also alerting people to the dangers of BBQs.

"The #BBQFreeNewForest campaign, supported by Forestry England and Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, was launched earlier this month following the large number of disposable BBQs being used while the Forest is at extreme risk of fire."

The spokesperson said multiple fires had broken out in recent weeks, leaving numerous areas of scorched earth.

NPA chairman Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre added: "Our woods and lowland heathland are of global environmental importance for wildlife and their peaty soils store carbon and help reduce climate change.

"Wildfires at this time of year cause immense damage to the ground and the rare flora and fauna. We must protect them from unintentional fires caused by carelessness."

One of the businesses backing the NPA campaign is Castles Home Hardware in Christchurch

Company secretary Nicky Watson said: "We are delighted to support anything that can help stop these awful fires and devastation on the Forest, heathland or coast."

Rural insurer NFU Mutual is also concerned about the danger of forest fires and is urging people visiting the countryside to leave barbecues at home.

Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said months of dry sunny weather had increased the risk of fires breaking out and endangering the lives of people, farm animals and wildlife.

She said: “We’re urging people to act considerately when out and about in the countryside."

In a message to people thinking of visiting areas such as the New Forest she added: "Please don't take disposable barbecues on walks or start campfires, and don't leave litter and rubbish lying around.”