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Coronavirus (COVID-19) - information for everyone visiting a forest

Updated 5th June 2020

Thank you for your patience and support as we have safely re-opened as many car parks and other facilities in the nation’s forests as smoothly and swiftly as we can. Thank you, too, for a steady and sensible return to the forests. 

We know that you want to visit your favourite forest more often; we do too, but keeping you, our staff and other visitors safe is still the top priority. 

Below we explain what we are doing to help you and what you can do to help us make this work. 

Please continue to respect us as we take difficult decisions to balance Government guidance, local communities’ perspectives, and the needs of our visitors.   

What we are doing to keep you safe 

The majority of our car parks and other limited facilities are open, but please check to see which car parks are still closed before travelling.  Some of the things we are doing in the forests include:   

  • cleaning touchpoints and toilets as often as we can following our new cleaning regimes.
  • putting social distancing advice and guidance in place.
  • checking paths are accessible.
  • dismantling illegal mountain bike trails and clearing fly tipping.
  • looking out for any wildlife that may have taken the chance, while it has been quiet, to build a home in an unusual place.   

Due to Government guidance on play areas, at this time we cannot reopen our play equipment and play areas. Please also note that many of our sites have limited facilities and things such as toilets and cafes may not be open. We are supporting our fantastic business partners to re-open their services, in line with Government safety advice. 

What you can do to help 

When you visit the nation’s forests, we hope you will enjoy the space and fresh air with a safe, relaxing visit. Please remember that it is your responsibility to follow the guidance on staying safe outside your home.  

Before you visit  

Please think carefully about visiting and come prepared:  

  • Limited facilities. Toilets and food outlets may not be open or reduced and there could be fewer pay machines which could mean a que to pay. Consider bringing your own hand sanitiser, food and refreshments.
  • Respect the forest. Put your litter in a bin, you might have to take it home to do so. 
  • No BBQs or fires. For the time being, BBQs are not allowed in any of our forests. The ground is very dry at the moment and they pose a fire risk. We are tackling many fires in the forests and finding evidence of BBQs.
  • Get to know the forest. See what walking and cycling trails there are on our website and make sure you have suitable footwear and if you plan to cycle, an appropriate helmet. Some forests may have new, temporary signs to follow or different opening hours. 
  • Know how to pay before you visit. It might be by phone, cashless or with cash. The best option could be to become a member. You’ll be supporting the forest and have unlimited parking.
  • It might be busy. Plan for what you will do if the site is temporarily closed because it is full or looks too busy for you. Be prepared to go somewhere else less busy, or return home and visit another time.
  • Only use our car parks. Keep roads clear and do not park on verges. Please respect our local communities and emergency services and park responsibly.  
  • Be kind. Be patient. This is a new experience for all of us. We need your help to make this work.  

Thank you for your support as we are doing our best for you.

Frequently asked questions 

Why are some of the facilities closed? 

Keeping you and our staff safe is still our top priority. We have started by opening as many of our car parks as smoothly, safely and swiftly as we can to help people spread out, avoid crowds and keep their distance. Some facilities such as toilets and takeaways are steadily opening in some forests where it is safe to do so. Please check our website before travelling to see what’s available. Other facilities such as play areas must remain closed according to Government guidance.  

Can I ride my bike or horse ? 

Public rights of way have always been open. Trails we have built need to be safety-checked so please accept that bike trails may be closed or altered, and follow any temporary signs.  

We welcome responsible mountain bikers and riders. Please follow the guidance on social distancing and where possible keep more than two metres apart from anyone you meet. Stop and wait for people to pass if necessary.  

Let someone know where you are going and wear appropriate protective equipment such as a helmet. With our health and emergency services under such intense pressure please only cycle on routes you know well and that are well within your ability level. Read British Cycling guidance and The British Horse Society guidance on coronavirus for riders  

Can I BBQ?  

No, not at the moment. This is to help you keep your distance and prevent fires with the current hot, dry conditions. We have suffered a devastating fire at Wareham Forest in Dorset. Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service said it had found the remains of 11 disposable barbecues in the area. 

Why is Westonbirt, The National Arboretum closed when other sites are open?  

Westonbirt will be reopening at 1pm on Wednesday 3 June. In order to keep visitors, volunteers, staff and our local community safe during this time, we have limited the number of people we can welcome at one time and introduced a new booking system.

In order to visit the National Arboretum, visitors and members of the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum must pre-book a ticket.

You can book your tickets  now.  

Why are some opening times different and why was the car park temporarily closed?  

We are working hard to help people meet their responsibility to, wherever possible, adopt the principles in the Government’s guidance: Staying safe outside your home. When we can, we are monitoring how many people are there and may need to close some car parks or facilities without notice.  

People aren’t social distancing – what can I do?  

It is everyone’s individual responsibility to, wherever possible, adopt the principles in the Government’s guidance: Staying safe outside your home. Do what you can to help yourself and others feel safe.  

The NPCC / College of Policing say in their guidance: “Government guidance is not enforceable, for example two-metre distancing”.  

Please be kind and patient with our staff and your fellow visitors. 

Why aren’t you making people social distance?  

We have signs on site to remind people and help them follow the guidance around social distancing. It is everyone’s individual responsibility to, wherever possible, adopt the principles in the Government’s guidance: Staying safe outside your home. Please do what you can to help yourself and others to feel safe.  

Will I still have to pay to park?  

Yes. We are a public body, but we receive much less public funding because we generate most of our income ourselves. The majority of our car parks are free and the money you pay to park in our larger sites is important to us. Like other businesses, coronavirus has significantly reduced our income. All the income we generate goes back into looking after and creating beautiful forests for people to enjoy and homes for wildlife.  

Will payment be cashless?  

Where possible we are operating cashless payment. The best option to avoid having to use car park machines is to buy membership online and print your car park pass before you leave home.  By buying membership you are also supporting your forest as the money we generate goes back in to looking after the forest and everything in it.   

Where we can we are cleaning our car park machines but you must come prepared to wash your hands if facilities are available and bring your own hand sanitiser.  

Will there be adequate hand washing facilities?  

Where possible we are opening toilets on our sites and you can wash your hands there, maintaining social distancing. However, there will be some sites open without toilet facilities. Check our website to see what facilities are available before travelling. Obviously out in the wider forest there won’t be hand washing facilities so consider bringing your own sanitiser.   

Will there be rangers on site to help me?  

To protect our staff and visitors and support safe social distancing our visitor centres and information points and ranger stations will remain closed.  We will have limited staff at some sites and their focus will be on managing site safety.  

Can I walk my dog in the nation’s forests?  

You are welcome to walk your dog in the nation’s forests.  

Remember It is everyone’s individual responsibility to, wherever possible, adopt the principles in the Government’s guidance: Staying safe outside your home. Do what you can to help yourself and others to feel safe.  

Before you come, please read our forest dog code.  

Read Kennel Club dog owners guidance