Fears have been raised that a wave of second home owners who have moved from coronavirus hotspot cities to their boltholes “to ride out the outbreak” at countryside beauty spots have put themselves and others at further risk.
Councillors representing communities in and around the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors national parks said anxiety was mounting among residents due to a significant number of arrivals of people from places like London and Birmingham, where rates of the virus are far higher.
Lower Swaledale and Arkengarthdale councillor Richard Good said there had been a “very effective police presence” in turning back visitors from the Yorkshire Dales at the weekend, but there had been a clear and marked increase in the number of people with second homes relocating to the national park.
He said: “The influx of people coming from Coronavirus hotspots like London to weather the outbreak in the Dales has concerned some of the locals.”
County councillor Greg White, whose Pickering division includes some of the North York Moors, said while some smaller communities had seen few if any second home owners arriving, concerns had been raised over the effect on the NHS of incomers in larger rural settlements such as Helmsley.
Community leaders said towns surrounding the national parks were seeing far higher numbers of people at shops than would be normal for the time of year, increasing the chances of the virus being spread.
They said those relocating to remote areas of North Yorkshire would have far worse access to healthcare than they would in cities, but said a return to their urban homes could exacerbate problems.
Councillor Bryn Griffiths, who represents Stokesley on the county council, said: “Visitors should definitely not be coming to North Yorkshire to stay in second homes or in holiday cottages. I urge people to report any instances to the police to deal with. It will potentially lead the Covid-19 virus being spread further into our communities and put unnecessary extra pressure on local health services, which are already under strain.”
While some residents said it was vital to keep public footpaths open, members of the Yorkshire Farming Community Network said they had been alarmed by continuing to see walkers in national parks, saying they could spread the Covid-19 virus by handling gates and latches.
David Butterworth, chief executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority said while the weekend saw a dramatic drop-off in the number of visitors to the national park, concerned residents had blocked car parks and public footpaths and erected “strident” home-made messages in an attempt to prevent people going near their properties.
He said the Government have been clear that rights of way should remain open for local people to exercise.
Mr Butterworth said: “Of course I understand why someone feels the need to take such action, but it is unhelpful for a couple of reasons.
“First, it pulls resources away from more important tasks and draws more people into the area than need be there, in order to deal with the matter. Second, and more importantly, the authority has a lot of car parks in remote locations, which may be required by the emergency services for the distribution of food, supplies and other resources to the Park’s more remote areas. That is why they have a ‘soft closure’ in place rather than permanent barriers placed in front of them.”
He urged residents of the national park to show kindness, respect, and to hold onto their humanity.
Mr Butterworth said: “There’s absolutely no problem reminding people of the Government’s advice in terms of travelling and social distancing, but we need to be careful not to cause unnecessary divisions between deeply rural communities and market towns or larger urban areas.
“There is an interconnectivity here which we need to recognise and respect. Dales communities need the resources provided by our local towns whether they are supermarkets, chemists, Doctors or hospitals. We’d also hope to encourage people back into the park when the time is right.”