Ever since the world went into lockdown in March, it seems the countryside has breathed a sigh of relief – fewer people out and about meant less litter, more relaxed wildlife, and a reduction in anti-social behaviour. Or at least – that’s what most of us thought.
The news has been awash with stories of wildlife flourishing without us – goats flocking through the streets of Llandudno, and dolphins swimming up the crystal-clear canals of Venice. Carbon emissions dropped by 17% globally while we were all staying at home.
However, things have been a little different on Cannock Chase. When lockdown was announced, car parks on Cannock Chase were closed off, and Police patrolled the area, turning away those with bike racks and picnic hampers.
The buzz of visitors who usually descend on the cafés and visitor centres of Cannock Chase ceased all of a sudden. Some businesses tried to diversify by offering takeaway services, but admitted defeat when customers were told not to drive unnecessarily. Some had to make workers redundant just to survive. Their remoteness, which, in ordinary times, had made them special, was now their downfall.
When restrictions on driving to exercise were starting to lift in May, news broke of fires spreading on Cannock Chase. This is nothing new in hot weather, but with the country in a national emergency, emergency services were being diverted away from the COVID-19 outbreak to tackle devastating fires caused by discarded cigarettes and barbeques. Car parks were slow to reopen, so cars were parked on verges, blocking emergency vehicles. As a result of this, the access road to the highest risk area has been cordoned off completely until further notice, pressuring more visitors into other car parks and pathways.
More recently, Staffordshire Police have reported a huge increase in litter at popular spots across Cannock Chase. They’ve put Dispersal Orders in place to deal with anti-social behaviour, and received tip-offs about illegal raves planned for quiet corners of our countryside.
Although the delicate flora and fauna of Cannock Chase had a few weeks of peace, there were negative consequences to lockdown too. People who built their livelihood in the countryside faced losing everything, and when laws were relaxed, visitors unable to visit shops or restaurants flocked to Cannock Chase and treated the area carelessly. With the increasing toll of the pandemic on our mental health, closure of areas of our countryside to protect it from reckless behaviour is depriving people of a vital lifeline.
If you are visiting the countryside, either as part of the ‘In The Sticks’ project or otherwise, please ensure that you respect local rules, follow the Countryside Code, and enjoy it responsibly. The countryside, like our society, needs buy-in from us all to recover from the devastation caused by COVID-19.