Exmoor National Park is anticipating that 2021 will see particularly large numbers of day visitors – with the pressure ‘particularly acute’ during the Easter holidays. The stay-at-home message from the Government ends, but retail, hospitality and outdoor attractions have yet to re-open, and will not do so until April 12 at the earliest.
DEVON/SOMERSET: EXMOOR VISITOR NUMBERS
Exmoor National Park is anticipating that 2021 will see particularly large numbers of day visitors – with the pressure ‘particularly acute’ during the Easter holidays.
From Monday, the stay-at-home message from the Government ends, but retail, hospitality and outdoor attractions have yet to re-open, and will not do so until April 12 at the earliest in the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown.
With families or groups of up to six people able to travel, the National Park is expecting particularly large numbers of day visitors, who may well travel from further afield than they would normally, this Summer, starting from Easter onwards.
It follows 2020’s visitor numbers being unusually high, and with significant numbers of people who had not visited Exmoor before which caused extra pressure on the ground.
Rob Wilson-North, head of conservation and access, in a report to the forthcoming Exmoor National Park Authority meeting, said that during 2021 Exmoor National Park is likely to become extremely busy with visitors, but that they have prepared a Visitor Management & Engagement Plan to try and manage the demand.
He said: “This reality provides Exmoor with some great opportunities but will also require effective management to help ensure all visitors have a positive experience and that Exmoor’s special qualities are protected.
“During 2020, visitor numbers were unusually high, and there were significant numbers of people who had not visited Exmoor before. This, against the context of the pandemic, caused extra pressure on the ground here on Exmoor, though thankfully such dramatic scenes as those on Dartmoor, Snowdonia and the Lake District, did not occur.
“The combination of lockdowns, changing government guidance, good weather and new visitors meant that the pattern of visits to Exmoor and where people went, changed rapidly requiring a dynamic, reactive response.
“Exmoor’s approach was to close its National Park Centres, keep open its car parks and public facilities, with extra safety measures in place, and to double its weekend presence on the ground by redeploying staff.
“There was a careful media, social media and website campaign that kept in step with government messages, providing practical information and supporting responsible visiting, and on the ground the policy was one of gentle, informal engagement using very experienced staff, to help visitors to enjoy Exmoor and to manage problems where they arose.”
Mr Wilson-North, in the report to the meeting on April 6, said that as the 2021 season nears, they have tried to learn the lessons from 2020 and are building an approach that is fundamentally based on last year’s, but which builds in more resilience.
He added: “We envisage that 2021 will see particularly large numbers of day visitors, who may well travel from further afield than they would normally. This will potentially be particularly acute during the Easter holidays, when the stay-at-home message ends, but retail, hospitality and outdoor attractions have yet to re-open. People are also likely to plan to have a ‘staycation’ in 2021 and seek out holidaying within the UK.
“We anticipate that, without positive intervention, many people, particularly campers and motorhome users, may arrive without pre-booked accommodation, only to find that none is available, and we intend to use a website and social media presence, as well as leaflets, temporary signage and face to face engagement to manage these issues in 2021.
“Our regular practice is to have a ranger presence on the ground during weekdays and a duty ranger at weekends. During 2020 we redeployed several staff to respond to increased visitor numbers and in 2021 we will ensure adequate routine presence on the ground and build in resilience in order to help manage increased numbers of visitors, staff absences and leave.
“In effect, this capacity will give us a presence that enables us to properly manage visitors and the infrastructure they use, but it will also enable us to engage with people in a positive way and we assume that 2021 will provide a unique opportunity to engage with audiences that never normally visit national parks.”
The park is currently progressing several options including recruiting a seasonal member of staff and using casual staff to support the core ranger team and will also consider using other staff who can be temporarily re-assigned to assist on the ground at peak times if required.
The core message of the plan is that Exmoor is here for everyone, help us keep it special, they are ready to welcome visitors and are working in partnership to manage the pressures and that we’re here to help so let’s work together.
Messaging that underlies the approach will focus around asking visitors to plan their visit to Exmoor well in advance (and have a Plan B), when they have arrived to act responsibly and respectfully, and to be e careful to leave no litter and to keep Exmoor in your memory until next time.
Mr Wilson-North added: “ENPA will rely on its overall visitor management & engagement plan to ensure that we use our resources effectively. However, it is important to stress that as the season progresses, we will also rely on our usual networks of partners to ensure dynamic and integrated responses through the season for the benefit of our communities and visitors.”
The Exmoor National Park Authority, when they meet on Tuesday, April 6, are recommended to approve the overall approach to visitor management and engagement.