VISITORS and second home-owners are being urged to stay away from the New Forest this weekend - despite the glorious weather.

Most people have been complying with the lockdown but civic chefs fear the temptation to spend Easter in the countryside could prove too great.

They are stressing that campsites, car parks and visitor attractions are currently closed to combat the spread of Covid-19.

In a message to anyone thinking of entering the area Cllr Barry Rickman, leader of New Forest District Council, said: "The government's priority is to save lives.

"The best way for everyone to protect themselves - and others - from illness is to stay at home, so we are reminding all visitors and second home-owners to please not visit the Forest.

"It's vital you play your part in limiting the spread of the coronavirus."

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Looking ahead to the end of the lockdown, whenever it occurs, he added: “We will love to welcome you back again later in the year. For now, stay home, stay safe.”

Police will be out on patrol this weekend to ensure people are complying with the social distancing rules.

Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre, chairman of the New Forest National Park Authority, said: "It's very important for us all to continue to observe the government’s restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

"We must stay at home at this critical time and avoid any temptation to travel to the New Forest unless it’s an essential journey.”

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Easter normally marks the start of the visitor season in the Forest and is usually one of the busiest weekends of the year.

But the "stay away" plea issued by Cllr Rickman and Mr Crosthwaite-Eyre has been echoed by Go New Forest, which represents the area's tourism industry.

A spokesman said: "We would normally love to see all our regular visitors but we really need you to support government advice to stay at home and stay safe.

"We all have a responsibility – visitors, visitor businesses and local residents - to heed advice and help save lives.

"If you have a holiday booked in the coming weeks, please contact the provider directly. If you’re postponing a visit, we look forward to welcoming you in happier times.”