Due to Wales' devolved power to manage its own countryside access, the coronavirus lockdown has unfolded a little differently there than in England and Scotland. Following 'The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020', which came into force on 26 March, many of Snowdonia's mountains are now closed, even to locals, as is much of Pembrokeshire's coastal path; likewise for many peaks and the whole of Waterfall Country in the Brecon Beacons.
On the weekend of 21-22 March, despite the government's advice to stay home, Snowdon saw unprecedented numbers of visitors as huge numbers of people decided to self-isolate in beauty spots. There were likewise huge congregations on the Pembrokeshire Coast and in the Brecon Beacons.
It didn't only happen in Wales – places like the Peak District also saw a huge rise in visitors – and, as a result, the UK government produced some stricter guidelines (article coming soon).
However, the Welsh government went one step further than England and Scotland. New regulations were put in force by the Welsh Ministers, which are more extensive than those in the rest of Britain, allowing National Park authorities to close paths 'liable to large numbers of people congregating or being in close proximity to each other' or paths posing 'a high risk to the incidence or spread of infection with the coronavirus'.
For the first time since the Foot and Mouth Restrctions of 2001, it is now a criminal offence to enter some specifically identified areas of the countryside or even to walk on specific public paths, with offenders potentially liable to fines or arrest. The police, National Park and Natural Resources Wales staff are even allowed to use 'reasonable force' to remove people. As in the rest of Britain, residents of Wales are also limited by law to leave their place of residence, 'to take exercise, no more than once a day, either alone or with other members of the household'.
WATCH Illegal parking stretching down Pen y Pass. Even on busy weekends cars never usually park here:
Snowdonia's closed mountains
By 30 March, the busiest mountains in Snowdonia were closed, including Snowdon, Cader Idris, Y Garn, the Glyderau, Tryfan and Cwm Idwal, Aran Benllyn and Aran Fawddwy.
WATCH The video below shows red 'closed' signs going up around Snowdonia's mountain footpaths:
Emyr Williams, Chief Executive of Snowdonia National Park said: “The crowds we saw on Snowdon and around key sites in Snowdonia over the weekend were alarming as it became evident people were not heeding the government’s advice to avoid non-essential journeys and to maintain safe social distancing, therefore we must act quickly to ensure that this issue is addressed.”
Here is a full list of maps showing closed paths in Snowdonia.
Confusion over illegal path closures
However, the new rules have also caused confusion, resulting in some landowners illegally closing off footpaths that are outside these areas. Gwynedd Council, which covers most of the Snowdonia National Park Area as well as the Lleyn Penninsula, state on its website:
“The regulations are not intended to block and stop the use of the majority of the path network. It is important that our paths are accessible to the people of Gwynedd for keeping fit and relaxing at a time that is challenging for us all.”
One local told a common story: "I was walking along an open footpath that passes close to a farmhouse when the owner came out and shouted at me that I wasn't allowed to be there and was 'contaminating her gate'."
The BMC, along with many other outdoor recreation and conservation bodies in Wales, under the umbrella of the Wales Outdoor Alliance, has written to the Welsh Government asking for bettter clarification of the new regulations and how they are to be implemented.
Pembrokeshire's closed coastal paths
In Pembrokeshire, meanwhile, many busy sections of the Coast Path have been closed. Here's the full map of path closures.
Closed paths in Pembrokeshire
Chief Executive Tegryn Jones said: “Despite Government advice to avoid all but essential travel and to remain at home wherever possible, we have experienced an exceptionally busy weekend across the county [of Pembrokeshire]. In the interest of public safety, we are closing our car parks to all but emergency access, and closing sections of the Coast Path where it is impossible to follow Government advice and practice safe social distancing.”
Brecon Beacons: closed mountains and waterfalls
And, likewise, the Brecon Beacons NPA has closed a wide range of mountains and waterfall beauty spots. This includes all areas of access land above the hill fence in the Central Brecon Beacons including Pen y Fan, Corn Du, Cribyn, Fan y Bîg, Waun Rydd; all areas of access land, footpaths and bridleways in Waterfall Country; and all areas of access land above the hill fence in the Black Mountains.
Chief Executive, Julian Atkins, commented: “We have not taken this decision lightly but these closures are important if we are to play our part in slowing the spread of the virus and they must be respected. The National Park will still be here when restrictions are lifted but for now we must put these closures in place. Many elderly people live in our National Park and access to hospitals and NHS services can be more difficult for some, please help everyone stay safe.”
Here is the full list of closed paths and mountains in the Brecon Beacons.
When do things go back to normal?
The Welsh regulations expire on 26 September 2020. In the meantime, the Welsh Ministers will review the need for restrictions imposed by the Regulations every 21 days. The public paths will be kept closed until it is considered that closure is no longer necessary to prevent, protect against, control or provide a public health response to the incidence or spread of infection with the coronavirus.
The best thing we can all do to ensure that things go back to normal as quickly as possible is to follow the government's advice. Stay local, and respect closures. If you are experiencing any problems with accessing paths that you think should be open, please contact Elfyn Jones, BMC Access & Conservation Officer (Wales): email@example.com.
WATCH: It's time to put climbing and hill walking on hold on BMC TV
More FAQs about the BMC and Covid-19
🌳 Can I start climbing / hillwalking? Yes, but be cautious in your actions, respectful of local communities and vigilant in avoiding transmitting the virus. Read our latest advice for June here and for the general return to climbing here
🌳 What's the situation in Wales? Read the full June update here
😷 When and how will the walls reopen? Read the ABC's advice for walls and watch their live update here
🚗 What have the BMC access team been doing during this time? Read on
📜 Will the BMC keep running smoothly? Read more or watch our weekly live updates from our CEO
🏡 Do you have any advice for clubs and huts? All you need to know
⛰️ Which BMC events are cancelled? Take a look at our calendar
✈️ I've got a travel insurance question Get your answers
🛒 Is the BMC shop open? Nope - it is now closed
We hope you stay safe during this unwanted adventure and let's come together as a community to help and support each other.