CAR parks across the New Forest are set to stay open during the lockdown to prevent chaos at popular beauty spots.

Forestry England has 120 gravel car parks, most of which will remain open to prevent motorists parking on verges, blocking emergency access gates and damaging environmentally-sensitive sites.

Drivers can also continue to use council-owned car parks - most of which are in town centres.

But motorists are being urged to comply with lockdown laws as hard-pressed hospitals continue to battle the latest surge in coronavirus cases.

Forestry England closed most of its car parks during the first lockdown.

Barriers were locked on March 23 following an influx of weekend visitors. Tens of thousands of people took advantage of the bright sunshine to enjoy the great outdoors.

Many car parks reopened in May although some remained closed to protect ground-nesting birds and other forms of wildlife.

The Commoners' Defence Association (CDA) said motorists prevented using the facilities had parked elsewhere, damaging protected habitats as well as blocking access gates.

The CDA represents 700 people whose animals graze the Forest and help give the area its iconic character.

Members initially supported Forestry England's decision to close its car parks but the then chairman, Tony Hockley, said the harm caused by people parking on verges and blocking gateways was “substantial”.

Most of the Forestry England car parks will remain open during the latest lockdown

A Forestry England spokesperson said: "We are concerned that closing them would lead to large amounts of parking on verges and open ground that could block narrow Forest roads and cause real and irreversible damage to the fragile landscape.

"Parking is not allowed anywhere other than within the official car parks. Please do not park on grass verges or block gates."

The spokesperson added: "We all need to reduce the number of journeys we make and maintain social distancing to avoid overcrowding in our forest car parks.

"Stay at home if you are displaying coronavirus symptoms or are self-isolating.

“With our health and emergency services under such intense pressure, cyclists should only use routes they know well and that are well within their ability level.

"It's particularly important that cyclists sticking to marked and designated cycle trails in the Forest. Ensuring it’s a safe place to exercise and protecting the very special nature we have in the New Forest, requires all of us to respect and look after it. ”

Car parks owned and maintained by New Forest District Council are also open as normal.

Colin Read, the council's executive head of operations, said: "The decision to keep car parks open was taken so that we can support our local residents who need to leave home for essential reasons under the lockdown rules, such as shopping for necessities, caring responsibilities, work, or nearby exercise.”