The Trust has reported an unprecedented surge in litter and fly tipping across its woodland sites since the national lockdown began - claiming it presents a rising threat to nature.

The Woodland Trust’s 1,000 plus sites across the UK have remained open to the public throughout the pandemic, bringing much needed natural relief and escape from the stresses of the virus.

But with increased visitors has come a massive increase in litter and fly tipping and misuse which the charity says in some cases it is struggling to control. Recently it has been forced to close the car park to a wood in Kent.

Norman Starks, director of operations at the charity, said the cost of clear up for the year is projected to be around £134,000.

He said: “It is great that people are getting outside and visiting our sites to enjoy the benefits of nature which are so important in these difficult times, but we have seen a huge increase in mess.

“The vast majority of people visit our sites respectfully but we have seen an increase in people misusing sites, for example setting up camps, chopping down trees and other damaging activities such as mountain biking off designated trails.

“We want people to continue visiting them but do ask they do it responsibly by following the Countryside Code – as well as taking home their litter. These are very delicate habitats, in some cases they are hundreds of years old. We need the public to join us in helping to continue to protect these environments.”

Litter and fly tipping can be a threat to nature in many ways. Firstly, lots of it does not naturally decompose and if left can persist for decades, causing changes in soil composition. Chemicals from more hazardous mess can get into watercourses, bringing wide ranging issues. Animals can suffocate in discarded plastic bags, get entangled in plastic can holders or eat balloons. Broken glass can cause serious injuries and animals can get trapped in jars. Meanwhile if people break rules by going off designated trails it can damage delicate ancient environments which take years to recover, if at all.

At Dering Wood in Kent, people have chopped down trees, created camps and masses of litter and drug waste have been dropped, as well as tree damage and fire pits created. This week the charity has been forced to close the car park to bring the problem under control.

Meanwhile down the road at Ashenbank Wood in Kent there have been similar problems and people have even taken to removing the nationally protected great crested newt species to take back to their ponds at home.

At Skipton Castle Woods in North Yorkshire there have also been huge litter and anti-social behaviour problems, similarly at Barber Wood, near Cheltenham, Smithills, near Bolton, and Hucking Estate in Kent, which have seen fly tipping too. And at Whittle Spinney, in Chorley, Lancs, hundreds of items have had to be removed.

The Trust has spent more than £1 million cleaning up mess and fly tipping across its woods over the last seven years, money which could be spent elsewhere, such as planting and protecting precious woodland environments.

When visiting the outdoors people should follow the Countryside Code: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-countryside-code, and Government guidelines regarding social distancing. People can report anti-social behaviour by calling Crimestoppers on: 0800 555111

Notes to editors

For more detail about this press release contact Andy Bond on 0343 7705795.

About the Woodland Trust

The Woodland Trust is the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK. It has over 500,000 supporters. It wants to see a UK rich in native woods and trees for people and wildlife.

The Trust has three key aims:  

  1. protect ancient woodland which is rare, unique and irreplaceable
  2. restoration of damaged ancient woodland, bringing precious pieces of our natural history back to life
  3. plant native trees and woods with the aim of creating resilient landscapes for people and wildlife.

Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust now has over 1,000 sites in its care covering approximately 29,000 hectares. Access to its woods is free so everyone can benefit from woods and trees.