AN ACTION plan is being devised to help the New Forest cope with the large number of "staycationers" expected to visit the area this summer.

Forest bosses want to avoid a repeat of "anti-social and dangerous behaviour" seen in the area following the end of the first lockdown.

Drivers parked on verges - often blocking emergency access gates used by the emergency services - as well as accidentally starting forest fires by flouting the ban on barbecues.

Some of the worst problems occurred at Hatchet Pond, near Beaulieu.

Many of the visitors who flocked to the environmentally-sensitive site went paddleboarding as well as ignoring the ban on swimming.

Julian Lewis, Tory MP for New Forest East, urged police to step up patrols to deal with what he described as "grossly unacceptable" conduct.

Other issues in the district included the wild camping that took place after all the official sites stayed shut.

This year sites run by Camping in the Forest are due to open on April 12 but social distancing rules mean the toilets are unlikely to open until May at the earliest.

The stay-at-home rule is due to be lifted from March 29, with further easing set to take place in April and May.

Forestry England and other organisations are devising a co-ordinated approach to the end of lockdown.

A spokesperson said: “As measures were eased last summer the New Forest, like many other locations, saw a surge in visitor numbers.

"Whilst the majority behaved responsibility, we experienced a steep rise in anti-social and dangerous behaviour including wild camping, fires and irresponsible parking."

The spokesperson said Forestry England was working closely with other organisations and the emergency services.

"These groups are working together to prepare a co-ordinated approach to the easing of the current lockdown."

The spokesperson said more details would be released "in due course".

Cllr David Harrison, a member of the New Forest National Park Authority, added: "There is a real concern about visitor pressure and the problems it is likely to cause as lockdown eases.

"We saw some serious issues last year, particularly when car parks quickly filled up and motorists started parking along grass verges.

"Unfortunately, there is no easy 'quick fix' solution.

"It is perfectly understandable that people will be very keen to get out and enjoy the Forest after such a long time restricted from activities.

"I think the trick is to encourage good behaviour, rather than to blame."