A charity has warned that a huge surge in litter and fly-tipping in woodlands is harming nature, with some people even removing protected animals to bring them back to their own ponds in Gravesend.
The Woodland Trust is has been faced with a bill of around £134,000 to clear up damage left by visitors after it kept more than 1,000 sites across the UK open for people to access woods and local wildlife throughout the lockdown.
The increase in visitors to its woodlands has seen a surge in litter, fly-tipping and irresponsible and damaging behaviour, the conservation charity said.
Discarded ribbish and plastics pose a threat to nature in multiple ways, but the trust has also seen even more damaging activity at some of its sites.
One place that has experienced such issues with litter and drug waste, fire puts, camp sites and damaged trees is Ashenbank in Gravesend, Kent.
The Woodland Trust said that people had even been caught removing great crested newts, a protected species, to take back to their ponds at home.
At one site, Dering Wood in Kent, the charity was forced to close the car park in order to combat issues with litter and waste.
The cost of clearing up the damage for the year is projected to be around £134,000, at a time when conservation charities have faced financial strain due to the lockdown.
And discarded rubbish can pose a threat to nature in many ways, the Woodland Trust said.
Plastics and metals do not naturally decompose and can persist in the natural environment for decades, changing the soil composition, while chemicals from more hazardous waste can leak into water courses.
Animals can suffocate in discarded plastic bags, get entangled in plastic can holders, and be injured by broken glass or get trapped in jars.
Straying off designated trails can damage delicate ancient environments which take many years to recover.
Norman Starks, director of operations at the charity, 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.
“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.”
The Trust said it has spent more than £1 million cleaning up mess and fly-tipping across its woods over the last seven years, which is money that could be spent on planting and protecting woodland environments.