Yorkshire's national parks expect influx of visitors as lockdown restrictions are lifted

Two of Yorkshire’s awe-inspiring national parks are preparing for an influx of visitors after wet weather and lockdown restrictions resulted in a quiet start to the year.

Aysgarth Falls, one of the Yorkshire Dales most famous landmarks, is a triple flight of waterfalls

North York Moors National Park and Yorkshire Dales National Park have been welcoming people since March 29, when the government’s ‘stay at home’ message ended.

But a significant increase is expected in the coming months, when summer arrives and the remaining restrictions are due to be lifted.

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The next phase of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown will see hotels, hostels, B&Bs and a range of tourist attractions reopen on May 17.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park

“We probably will see more people return to the national park because there are going to be more visitor attractions open,” said Tom Hind, Chief Executive of the North York Moors National Park Authority.

“On the part of our tourism businesses, it's desperately needed and welcome. Generally speaking, I think we're looking forward to welcoming even more people back to the national park, as we move through the course of the remainder of the spring and into the summer.

“Numbers have increased gradually over the course of recent weeks and the overwhelming majority of people have been really grateful to have the opportunity to visit the great outdoors and to get out and about and enjoy the natural beauty of the national park.

“There is just a minor minority of people whose behaviour could improve. Litter has become a really significant national scourge and we've seen that in the national park.”

He added: “We know people are nervous about the public health aspects. What we try to do as a national park authority is try to help people get the most out of their visit but also guide them to places where it might be a bit less busy as well.”

Kathryn Beardmore Director of Park Services of Yorkshire Dales National Park, said it was “really quiet” before restrictions were relaxed on March 29, but since then the weather has been “the biggest factor that affects visitor numbers”.

“We are expecting a ‘normal’ busy summer,” she said.

“Most of our visitors are day visitors, not staying visitors, and the number of staying visitors are limited by the supply of visitor accommodation in the national park.

“Occupancy rates for our visitor accommodation is always high over the summer and autumn period – though we understand this year any accommodation is exceptionally busy.”

She added: “We have information on our website and infographic to encourage people to remember ‘hands, face, space’. We have an enhanced cleaning regime for our public toilets, and our visitor centres are ‘Covid-secure’ environments.

“It’s well documented that outdoors in the open air risk of transmission of the virus is lower.”

Last year, both national parks welcomed more young people and first-time visitors.

Surveys conducted at North York Moors National Park reveal that between 2019 and 2020, the number of visitors who were between the ages of 18 and 34 rose from 21 per cent to 28 per cent.

Mr Hind also revealed that, in most years, less than 20 per cent of visitors are first timers, but in 2020 this rose to around 25 per cent.

Ms Beardmore said Yorkshire Dales National Park “saw many more young people (under 35 years) and a lot less older people (over 55 years) than previously”.

She added: “For the first time our visitor demographic in 2020 reflected the population as a whole, significantly 27 per cent of people were first time visitors.”