CIVIC chiefs are planning to take action following complaints that pop-up campsites in the New Forest are harming the area.

Under proposals being drawn up by the National Park Authority (NPA) temporary campsites with more than 50 pitches – and all the pop-up facilities established since March last year - will need to obtain planning permission.

The Lymington-based authority wants to reduce the damage done to the environment by campers on farms and other sites.

An NPA spokesperson said: "The New Forest has more than three times the number of camping and touring caravan bed spaces per square kilometre than the average of all other English national parks.

"There are currently 12 known temporary campsites, with pitch numbers ranging from 12 to 90."

Under existing rules temporary campsites can operate for 56 days a year without planning permission. But the NPA is proposing to introduce an Article 4 Direction, which would require the operators of all the new and larger sites to seek consent.

Gordon Bailey is chairman of the NPA's planning committee.

He said: "The New Forest is already one of the most visited national parks in England and has the highest proportion of land designated as internationally important for nature conservation in the country, so it's vital we protect the very thing that people come here to enjoy.

"These new rules will not affect smaller temporary campsites which have been operating for a number of years.

"However, we are concerned about the impact of larger sites and any new sites, and it is proposed that these should require planning permission in the future."

A public consultation on the possible introduction of an Article 4 Direction runs until November 7. If the Direction is confirmed it will come into effect next September.

"Before then, the NPA will produce updated guidance and policies to help inform future planning applications for new and larger campsites."

The number of temporary campsites started to increase after the government allowed them to operate for 28 days a year without official consent.

When coronavirus struck the limit was raised to 56 days to help the outdoor hospitality sector survive the crisis.

But the extension, coupled with a rapid rise in visitor numbers, sparked fears that campers could disturb habitats.

Earlier this year NPA members said measures were needed to safeguard the Forest.

Speaking at the time an NPA ,member said: "With an ever-increasing demand for touring pitches, there is concern about the future environmental impacts of these temporary campsites.

"These are mainly around the disturbance of protected habitats and the safe disposal of waste water."

Steve Avery, the NPA's director of strategy and planning, said the authority would work closely with campsite owners to help them meet the requirements of the habitat regulations.

Pop-up campsites have appeared at a variety of venues across the country, including county showgrounds, rugby clubs and parkland surrounding stately homes.

Earlier this year booking platform Pitchup said they were proving a lifeline for businesses that might have otherwise struggled to survive the pandemic - and for customers who might otherwise have been unable to take a post-lockdown holiday.

Pitchup claimed the sites were generally “quite back-to-basics with limited amenities”.

The land had to be restored to its original condition after use, which meant the permanent impact on the land was negligible, it said.