Visitors to Welsh woodlands are being urged to behave responsibly following an increase in littering, fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour.

The charity, Coed Cadw (The Woodland Trust in Wales), says a surge in visitors during months of lockdown and ‘stay local’ rules has seen a number of their sites trashed. Coed Cadw estimates that visitor numbers has more than doubled across their 100-plus settings.

The charity has now been forced to close one of its woodlands in the Vale of Glamorgan due to damage and misuse.

At Cwm George and Casehill Woods near Dinas Powys, there have been multiple instances of vandalism, fly tipping, littering and mountain biking over the woodland flora and fauna. Meanwhile, persistent trampling and widening of pathways has had such an impact that parts of the site will be closed to the public for the next few months, to allow the vegetation to recover.

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Kylie Jones Mattock, estates manager at Coed Cadw said: “It’s wonderful that people have been getting outside, visiting our sites and enjoying the benefits of nature at a time when we’ve needed it the most.

“But while most of our visitors are very careful not to cause damage to our sites, we have sadly seen an increase in people misusing these spaces, for example setting up camps, lighting fires, chopping down trees, creating unofficial bike trails and leaving rubbish behind.”

Coed Cadw has also recorded issues across other Welsh sites, including Plas Power Woods near Wrexham, which has never seen so many visitors, nor so much dog fouling and fly tipping.

At Graig Fawr near Margam in Neath Port Talbot, fires started by barbecues have caused damage to delicate habitats in the recent spells of dry weather.

Litter and fly tipping are dangerous to nature and wildlife in many ways. Litter, which does not naturally decompose, can persist for decades and can cause changes in soil composition. Chemicals from more hazardous mess can get into water courses. While animals can suffocate or be seriously injured by discarded plastic bags and containers.

Bluebell habitats found at woodlands such as Bluebell Woods near Crickhowell, are ancient sites. They can take years to recover from the damage caused by trampling.

“At the moment we are in bluebell season,” said Ms Jones Mattock. “This is a great reason to go and visit local woodlands, but it also carries the risk of damage to the very thing visitors have come to enjoy.

“Once damaged, woodland flowers often struggle to recover, and in some cases these habitats are hundreds of years old. We need the public to join us in helping to protect them. We are asking visitors to please stick to the paths, even if it’s muddy. If the wood is busy, wait to let others pass by, or perhaps consider visiting at a less popular time of day.”

Ms Jones Maddock added: “Repairing path damage and cleaning up litter costs money which could be better spent elsewhere – such as planting new trees and enhancing our existing precious woodland environments so that they can be enjoyed for generations to come.”