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'Beauty spots can't support social distancing if everyone heads there'

The pandemic means residents in the South West are advised to reconsider their plans this weekend.

There's a plea to keep social distancing this Bank Holiday weekend and avoid all heading to Westcounty beauty spots.

It's been made by police and councils across Somerset, Dorset and Devon - as well as Dartmoor and Exmoor national parks.

Officials say some south west outdoor spaces were "besieged" this week, with more than 70 parking fines handed out in Woolacombe on Wednesday alone.

There will be no lifeguards on duty and in most places public toilets are remaining shut.

Somerset's residents have been urged to respect social distancing advice and stay away from tourist hot-spots.

Clare Paul, the Cabinet Member with responsibility for Public Health at Somerset County Council, said: "It is critical we do not do anything that could increase the spread of the virus just when it looks as if we may be getting it under control."

The county's Director of Public Health also has a message for people, encouraging them to heed the latest warnings on Coronavirus.

This follows new government guidelines that have been published this week.

Trudi Grant says anyone losing their sense of taste or smell must self-isolate at home: "Unfortunately, in recent weeks we have had a number of incidents where people have gone to work despite people in their household having symptoms.

"This leads to further infections. To make it really clear, if anyone in your household has symptoms of COVID-19 you must self-isolate."

Anyone considering visiting Exmoor National Park has been advised to do so responsibly, as significant crowds are expected this weekend.

Its Chief Executive Sarah Bryan says whilst it is understandable people want to enjoy the local landscape, they must respect the environment.

"We ask everyone to follow the rules by keeping at least two metres from others and washing hands regularly.

"Visiting outside of peak times, avoiding popular sites and continuing to use green spaces closer to home are simple steps many of us can take to help make space for everyone.

“During these difficult times, farmers are working hard to provide food and care for the countryside, so it’s vital we keep their wellbeing in mind.

"Show your support by following the countryside code, keeping dogs under control and picking up any mess, which can be a health hazard to farm animals as well as people."

Pamela Woods, Chair of Dartmoor National Park Authority, added: “Last weekend was incredibly busy on Dartmoor as people took the opportunity to enjoy the open spaces of this special landscape.

“We took the decision to reopen car parks and many filled up very quickly. However, it was very good to see the vast majority of people following social distancing guidelines and being considerate of the environment, each other and local communities.

“Our thanks to all of you for doing your bit. Sadly, there remain a few exceptions to this rule and thanks should go to Dartmoor’s Rangers and Devon and Cornwall Police for dealing with these. They will continue patrols this weekend."

Walkers are also being asked to avoid lighting BBQs, with the upcoming dry and windy weather meaning there is an increased risk of wildfires.

Devon & Cornwall Police Inspector Paul Searle, said: “Over this Bank Holiday Weekend, when not responding to calls for service we will be deploying our staff to the high foot fall areas including the beaches, beauty spots and Exmoor.

"Although we will mainly concentrate on gatherings we will also be engaging with people who have travelled to our area and clearly explaining the legal position.

"Where this is not heeded and there is a clear breach we will move to enforcement."

Bunrham-on-Sea and Highbridge Town Council Mayor, Councillor Mike Facey, said: "The Town Council is very concerned about the increasing numbers of people visiting the beach in Burnham. Although the beach is accessible, there are no safety staff, no beach wardens and no lifeguards on duty. 

"We entirely understand that people want to get out and enjoy our beautiful open spaces during the good weather, but we urge everyone to take particular care to avoid having close contact with others.

"Most of our shops and hospitality facilities for visitors remain closed. The few shops that are open are relied upon by the resident community, many of whom are older and more at risk from COVID-19.

"The more people who visit our beaches and towns, the more difficult it is for everyone to find the space needed to follow the law and social distancing advice. When it’s safe for everyone to return, Burnham will welcome back its visitors; it’s just not quite that time yet."

Sedgemoor District Council said it is "asking anyone who is considering visiting Sedgemoor’s beaches or beauty spots to be think carefully about their planned trip and to considerate to our communities."

A spokesperson added: "The main message is that we love to see you, but just not now: there are very few facilities for anyone visiting for a day trip. At the beaches and parks, there are no safety staff, beach wardens, lifeguards on duty."

Great Western Railway says social distancing measures mean trains can only carry around a tenth of its normal passengers.

The train operator is asking passengers to refrain from getting on-board for leisure purposes.

GWR Interim Managing Director, Matthew Golton, said: “We are doing everything we can to carry as many people, safely, as we can. This will make sure that those who absolutely need to travel by train can do so.

"But I must ask you, is your journey really necessary?”

The firm has also warned that, despite staff doing everything they can to help, it cannot guarantee two metre gaps between people at all points throughout a journey.

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