HUNDREDS of illegal ‘fly-campers’ are said to be blighting the Lake District National Trust car parks by leaving behind a trail of destruction and rubbish.

The charity has reported 118 camper vans parking illegally in one valley in just one evening at Buttermere, which, says the trust, has wiped out the capacity in many car parks for day visitors.

There are also unsustainable levels of anti-social fly-camping on accessible lakeshores with campers lighting fires, damaging trees and littering.

Trust bosses cited the unprecedented rise in ‘fly-camping’ in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic as halting conservation work and putting nature at risk.

With more people than ever likely to have a “staycation” this summer, rangers are having to clean up after increasing numbers of people camping illegally. Many have a “disposable festival mentality”, the National Trust said – dumping tents and camping equipment, lighting fires and damaging trees.

A fifth of rangers’ time has been diverted away from vital conservation work, it added.

Following a dramatic increase in the amount of discarded equipment and litter being left behind at countryside and coastal locations, the National Trust is urging people not to fly-camp on its land and to help protect nature and wildlife.

Neil Winder, Area Ranger at Grasmere and Great Langdale, said: “We’re pleased to be able to welcome back holiday makers to the Lake District, but it’s not yet business as usual while we gradually reopen with the safety of our guests, staff and volunteers in mind.

“We encourage visitors to plan and book their accommodation in advance as we are experiencing unprecedented demand.

"Some Lake District hotspots simply cannot sustain the numbers of visitors turning up with nowhere to legally camp overnight.”

“No one should have to clear up the mess that we are experiencing at some of our places.”

Ben McCarthy, head of nature conservation and restoration at the National Trust, said: “We have seen a huge increase in the number of people fly-camping at our places over the past few weeks, and they are leaving not only vast quantities of litter behind, but in some instances leaving tents and much of their equipment.

“We are seeing a disposable festival mentality which we’ve not experienced at our places before. Some campers are also lighting campfires which can cause big problems, especially with the land still being very dry despite recent rainfall.

"Campfires should not be lit at any of our countryside or coastal locations. Fires can easily get out of control and this could have a massive impact on wildlife and landscapes.”