Northumberland National Park busiest since 1970s
A surge in visitors desperate to leave the house after months in lockdown saw Northumberland National Park busier than it has been since the 1970s, despite an overall slump in visitors caused by the pandemic.
The government’s coronavirus restrictions saw thousands of foreign holidays and other trips cancelled last year as part of measures to halt the spread of coronavirus.
And wildlife and tourism bosses in the North East believe this caused large numbers to take advantage of the region’s views and walks.
“Last year, after the first easing of lockdown and people being allowed to travel out of their area, we had an influx of visitors to the countryside,” said Tony Gates, chief executive at the national park.
“We saw levels of visitors not seen, in the memory of some of our rangers, since the 1970s – which also brought great strain for our resources.
“We’re a big park, but we only have limited facilities and there were times when the capacity of [some of] our areas was overrun.
“It’s not easy to expand facilities overnight and we also had some challenging visitor behaviour to deal with.
“There was evidence of get-togethers and events being held, where we also saw evidence of behaviour which is not the traditional behaviour we’ve seen at the national park.”
Shortly after the UK’s first Covid lockdown was announced, park bosses had recorded 1.73million visitors for the whole of 2019/20.
Collated figures for the following year, 2020/21, show a fall of about 760,000.
But this period also included three national lockdowns imposed in England, as well as several warnings against unnecessary travel.
The Sill, the park’s flagship visitor centre near Vindolanda Roman fort, which opened in 2017, saw 48,600 people through its doors in 2020/21 – a tenth fewer than the 53,700 it had planned for, even after adjusting expectations for the coronavirus pandemic.
But bosses have insisted they are expecting a ‘significant bounce’ in numbers this year.
While the visitor surges have been welcome, they have also provided a steep learning curve, with managers blaming ‘unprecedented levels of visitors’ for some ‘challenging’ issues faced by rangers.
Gates insisted however that the tourism boost remained a positive from an otherwise tough year.