DAERA introduces new measures across forests and country parks in response to Covid-19.
Quoile Countryside Centre in Downpatrick, and Scrabo and Crawfordsburn Countryside Parks closed down.
DAERA Minister Edwin Poots MLA has temporarily closed some public-facing facilities at DAERA-owned forests, country parks, nature reserves and fisheries offices until the end of May 2020.
In line with recent COVID-19 advice on social distancing, facilities such as camping amenities, museums, mobile concessions and visitor centres will be closed at all sites from 23 March until end of May 2020. Cafes are already closed. Daily parking charges will however, be waived in an effort to encourage people to use the wide-open spaces at our forests.
Department forests and country parks attract approximately 8 million visits per year.
DAERA Minister Edwin Poots MLA said: “Society today finds itself in extremely challenging and unprecedented times. Our priority is the wellbeing of visitors, staff and the general public. To help reduce the risks of further transmission of Covid-19, I’ve instructed departmental staff to close certain facilities in our forests, country parks, nature reserves and fisheries offices from Monday.
“Visitors should plan ahead on the understanding that they won’t have access to camping facilities, cafes, museums, mobile concessions and visitor centres.”
All bookings to these sites are made online and deposits made will be refunded for the period to the end of May 2020.
The Minister continued: “While we all practice social distancing and self-isolation, we mustn’t forget the importance of our physical and mental health and well-being.
“Our forests and country parks can play an important role at this time and we are working hard to ensure that these natural resources continue to be accessible for those who want to exercise and clear their head. I have therefore waived the daily car park charges for day visitors to Forest Parks from 23 March 2020 until the end of May – visitors should practice the advice provided by the Public Health Agency NI and the Department of Health regarding social distancing and good hand hygiene.”
Further facilities that will be closed until the end of May 2020 include;
· Closure of the relevant Forest Service caravan and camping facilities and in addition the NIEA group campsite at Castle Archdale Country Park, until the end of May 2020.
· Cancellation of all facilitated events until the end of May, also then to be reviewed
· Closure of all Inland Fisheries public facing offices under the same terms until the end of May. This includes the Licence and Permit sales facility at Mahon Road in Portadown and the day-ticket facility at Bushmills Salmon Station for fishing on the River Bush. All of these services are available on-line through NI Direct and arrangements are in place for telephone sales.
· Public toilets may need to be closed should the situation arise that they cannot be serviced and cleaned as necessary.
Further information on forests and country parks, Covid-19 and any effect on wider Government services, can be found on nidirect at: www.nidirect.gov.uk/coronavirus
The Country Parks affected are:
Ness Country Park
Roe Valley Country Park
Castle Archdale Country Park
Quoile Countryside Centre
Scrabo Country Park
Redburn Country Park
Crawfordsburn Country Park.