Police 'clear-up' whether public can go to beauty spots during Covid-19 lockdown

There has been "confusion" among the public as to where they are allowed to visit during the Covid-19 lockdown, a police force has said.

Staffordshire Police moved to clarify new rules on what beauty spots people can visit and in what circumstances - as a neighbouring force defended its use of drones to deter people visiting the Peak District.

Derbyshire Police attracted criticism from some quarters after posting footage shot by its drone, drawing attention to what it said were clearly unnecessary journeys.

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Meanwhile, Avon and Somerset Police said such non-essential travel included "driving to local beauty spots to do exercise".

Helmsley Castle, 12th-century castle overlooking the market town of Helmsley, on the southern edge of the North York Moors National Park. Picture Tony Johnson

Elsewhere, Cumbria Police warned drivers would face fines as they "closed" the Lake District, with North Yorkshire Police also telling people to stay away from beauty spots.

Chief Inspector Ed Haywood-Noble, of North Yorkshire Police, said: "We do not want to see people travelling to beauty spots in rural areas for exercise or any other reason. In particular, do not arrange to meet up with family or friends. Instead, take your exercise near your home, with members of your household.

“And whether you’re in a car or on a motorcycle, do not go out ‘just for a drive’ or a ride in the countryside. What if you break down, or have a crash? You are putting lives at risk.

“So this weekend, officers across rural North Yorkshire will again be stopping vehicles and asking motorists where they are going, why they are going there, and reminding them of the message to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”

The National Police Chiefs' Council lead for charging and out of court disposals, Deputy Chief Constable Sara Glen, also urged people to "be sensible".

She said: "There isn't anything definitive in the legislation that talks about 'can you get in a car to drive to a place to go and do your exercise'.

"It just gives the guidance that we're giving, that can we all be really sensible about this."

In a statement, a Staffordshire Police spokesman said: "There has been some confusion around whether people can visit and exercise in the Staffordshire countryside, including Cannock Chase, the Roaches and other country parks.

"We are asking people not to visit these areas and to stay close to home to exercise once a day."

Asking people to maintain social distancing, he added: "We understand that there are small numbers of local people who live within these immediate areas who may continue to walk dogs and exercise, but cars should only be used for essential journeys and not to travel somewhere to exercise.

"It is important that groups of people avoid congregating at areas such as car parks or popular beauty spots as it is impossible to stay more than two metres apart from others - which is critical to stop the spread of the virus."

Urging people to support the NHS and abide by the lockdown, the force said: "The beautiful Staffordshire countryside will still be there in a few weeks for us all to enjoy."

Avon and Somerset Police said it would be leafleting beauty spot visitors.

A force spokesman added: "People should not be doing any unnecessary journeys and that includes driving to local beauty spots to do exercise.

"Our officers will be giving out flyers and public information leaflets at popular beauty spots to remind people of their responsibilities during this public health crisis.

"We would urge people not to put the safety of emergency service workers at any greater risk by flouting these measures.

"We're all in this together and together we can make sure public safety is at the top of all our priority lists."