A conservation trust has pleaded with visitors to “leave no trace” after a spate of anti-social behaviour at north-east beauty spots.
The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) says it has welcomed record numbers to its sites across the country due to restrictions on foreign travel.
But, the sharp increase in the number of people visiting the sites, which include Mar Lodge and Crathes Castle in Aberdeenshire, has led to concerns over damage to the environment.
Staff have addressed unintended damage through campaigns highlighting the impact on local wildlife and ecosystems and providing advice for visitors.
‘Devastating effect’ on trust’s projects
But there has also been a large increase in anti-social behaviour, littering and vandalism at the sites, which the trust says is having a “devastating effect” on its long-term projects.
Trees and fences have been wrecked and used as firewood, while staff have also had to deal with an “unprecedented” amount of litter and even human waste.
Wildlife and livestock have also been attacked by dogs running loose.
The charity recently launched a campaign, called “love this space, leave no trace”, in a bid to encourage visitors to behave responsibly and raise funds to restore venues to their former glory.
Paul Bolton, head ranger at Mar Lodge, said staff had had to clear away entire campsites – complete with tents and sleeping bags – while there has also been a sharp rise in the number of fires.
“When lockdown eased last summer, we saw a dramatic increase in visitors to our countryside and expect the same this summer,” he said.
“The cumulative effect of large numbers of people returning to the countryside caused unintended damage. Regrettably, in some instances, we’re also seeing a rise in anti-social behaviour that is endangering our natural environment.
“Campfire remains are becoming a common sight as well.
“The burnt circles on the ground are not only an eyesore but a serious fire hazard. In the first three months after lockdown, we dealt with more fires than we normally would in a whole year.”
Damage is ‘unacceptable’
James Henderson of Crathes Castle revealed vandals had broken into the estate, while damage had been caused to the castle’s ancient walls and woodlands.
The trust’s campaign has been backed by West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MP Andrew Bowie, who said the beauty of the attractions would “fade” because of the “frankly unacceptable actions” of some visitors.
“NTS rely on donations to maintain the likes of Mar Lodge but also depend on visitors taking their litter away, acting responsibly in the midst of delicate ecosystems, and staying out when parks and properties are closed,” he said.
“These treasured properties are at real risk of being overwhelmed if these patterns of behaviour don’t stop.”