BARBECUES and camp fires have been banned in the New Forest as part of an attempt to prevent a repeat of the “truly shocking” scenes witnessed last summer.

Forestry England and other organisations have devised an action plan to help the area cope with the expected influx of visitors once coronavirus restrictions start to ease.

Extra patrols will be mounted in the district in a bid to prevent people from flouting the rules.

The action plan has been devised by Forestry England, Go New Forest, the New Forest National Park Authority (NPA) and the district council.

In a joint statement they said: “Last year was exceptional in many ways and saw greater numbers of people spending time in the countryside.

“The New Forest, like many other places around the country, experienced anti-social behaviour.

“With large numbers expected again this year, the action plan focuses on sharing resources in a concerted effort to support visitors to the area and encourage care for the Forest.”

The statement said barbecues and camp fires had been banned on all land managed by Forestry England - formerly the Forestry Commission.

“Last year saw a significant rise in the irresponsible use of BBQs, presenting a major risk of wildfire with potentially devastating effects,” it said.

“In just one weekend rangers working with the fire service extinguished over 60 unsafe BBQs.

“All BBQ facilities at Forestry England sites have been removed and prominent ‘no BBQ’ signs are being installed at Forestry England car parks and information points.

“The ban will be widely communicated and joint patrols with the fire service carried out across the Forest at periods of peak fire risk.”

Action is also being taken to address other issues, including litter.

Gavin Parker, chairman of the NPA, said: “The Forest is an amazing place and getting outside is a great way to boost our mood and physical health. However, this cannot be at the expense of this precious place.

“Last year we saw truly shocking impacts on countryside sites including the massive fire in Wareham Forest which was caused by barbecues.

"We also saw an increase in litter, which can harm the grazing animals that are so vital in shaping the landscape and maintaining rare Forest habitats."

The Official Verderer, Lord Manners, said the past 12 months had seen "unprecedented" pressure on the Forest.

Forestry England's most senior officer in the area, Deputy Surveyor, Bruce Rothnie, added: “The New Forest is a world-renowned capital for nature and home to some of Europe’s rarest and most fragile landscapes.

"Keeping this place special requires everyone spending time here to help care for the area. Only in this way can we ensure it remains for all to enjoy.”

Colin Read is executive head of operations at the district council.

He said: "It is important we welcome visitors back into the district to help support our economy, but we also need to consider the impact on our environment and make people aware of the long-term implications of their actions.

"We are pleased to be working with our partner organisations so that people who want to do the right thing know how to care for the Forest while they are here.

"Alongside this we will continue to deal with the minority who fly tip and litter.”

Anthony Climpson, Chief Executive of Go New Forest, said: “Tourism contributes over half a billion pounds to the local economy each year and provides over 20% of all employment.

"It is just one reason to welcome our visitors and signpost them to everything they need to enjoy the best possible time while they are here.

"Visitors who are properly informed about the Forest will not only understand how to care for this very special place, but they are much more likely to invest in it both emotionally and financially.”