PATROLS are being mounted in the New Forest in a bid to prevent popular tourist areas being hit by devastating wildfires.

Volunteers from Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service (HIWFRS) have joined forces with rangers from Forestry England and the National Park Authority (NPA).

They are monitoring busy parts of the Forest and reminding visitors that camp fires and barbecues are banned.

A Forestry England spokesperson said the area was on high alert, despite various steps taken earlier this year to cut the risk of fires breaking out.

"All BBQ facilities at Forestry England sites have been removed and prominent 'no BBQ' signs have been installed at car parks and information points," they said.

Continuing restrictions on foreign travel have led to a boom in staycation tourism, with more families visiting national parks.

Fine weather forecast for the rest of the week, coupled next week's bank holiday, could result in even more people pouring into the Forest over the next few days.

Steve Avery, executive director at the NPA, said: "With visitors increasing it’s vitally important that everyone plays their part to reduce the risk of wildfires.

"The woods and lowland heathland are of global environmental importance for wildlife and their peaty soils help store carbon.

"Wildfires at this time of year would not only cause immense damage but would also release harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

"It’s great to be working with Forestry England, the fire service and other organisations, enabling us to all reach out to more people and protect the Forest for future generations.”

Dean Hodges, HIWFRS’ wildfire lead, added: "Although we all welcome the warmer weather, drier conditions through the summer months increase the risk of wildfires, which is a real concern."

The Forestry England spokesperson confirmed that BBQs - and stoves raised off the ground - could be used only at the nine campsites operated by Camping in the Forest.

"These are managed areas and have a series of measures in place including metal containers for hot coals to ensure their safe disposal, water points, firefighting equipment and regular patrols by campsite staff," they said.

"Disposable BBQs are not permitted at these locations in line with the rest of the New Forest Crown lands."