DISCARDED equipment and an increase in litter has prompted the National Trust to urge people not to 'fly camp' on its land.

The organisation, which oversees a host of land in Somerset, says it has seen a 'dramatic increase' in the amount of discarded equipment and litter being left behind at countryside and coastal locations.

Now, with more people than ever likely to ‘staycation’ this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic, National Trust ranger teams are finding 20 per cent of their time is now having to be spent on clearing up after visitors rather than on vital conservation work to help nature.

Since the easing of lockdown restrictions in England various tourist hot spots including the South West, the Peak District and Lake District have seen significant increases in the numbers of people camping, and a spike in the number of camper vans parking at beauty spots overnight, without permission.

In West Cornwall, the Trust says, 140 camper vans were turned away from 10 small remote sites over a week-long period, doubling or tripling what Trust would normally expect.

Rob Rhodes, head of rangers at the National Trust, said: “Due to lockdown we haven’t been able to get on with conservation work and many of our rangers who have returned to their posts over the past few weeks are champing at the bit to get on and start to clear the backlog.

“The sort of work we want to be doing at this time of year includes managing our flower rich meadows and caring for the wildlife that live there, and vital maintenance work to our network of paths and visitor routes.

“But this unsociable behaviour by some is taking up so much time that it’s affecting not only on the upkeep of our sites, but taking our staff away from vital conservation work and engaging with visitors. Leaving debris and litter behind can cause issues for wildlife such as injuring animals and destroying habitats.

"No one should have to clear up the mess that we are experiencing at some of our places.”

Ben McCarthy, head of nature conservation and restoration at the National Trust, added: “We have seen a huge increase in the number of people fly-camping at our places over the past few weeks, and they are leaving not only vast quantities of litter behind, but in some instances tents and much of their equipment.

“We are seeing a disposable festival mentality which we’ve not experienced at our places before.

“Some campers are also lighting campfires which can cause big problems, especially with the land still being very dry despite recent rainfall. Campfires should not be lit at any of our countryside or coastal locations. Fires can easily get out of control and this could have a massive impact on wildlife and landscapes.

“We know one of the few positives of lockdown has been the rise in visitors enjoying the outdoors, nature and the countryside.

"And while we want to do all we can to encourage more people to spend time in nature, we all have a responsibility to leave places as we found them – for other people but also for the sake of nature itself.

"We want to remind people to follow the countryside code and that they should only camp overnight with a landowner’s permission.”