Police are carrying out ‘high visibility patrols’ in the Brecon Beacons after hundreds of visitors descended onto the Welsh beauty spot in defiance of the strict Tier 4 coronavirus restrictions.
Dyfed-Powys Police have been turning visitors away from the busy Pen y Fan, the highest peak in south Wales, after hundreds of vehicles arrived at the national park this week.
The force said there will be an increased police presence at Storey Arms, a popular parking spot for the mountain, in the run up to the new year and are urging people to stay away from the area.
Earlier today, officers quizzed visitors at the packed car park at Pen y Fan as people continued to arrive in their droves to the tourist attraction in spite of repeated warnings.
Hundreds of visitors continue to arrive to Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons today despite multiple warnings from police
An officer from Dyfed-Powys Police speaks to visitors arriving to the beauty spot in Wales after hundreds turned up earlier this week
A patrol car drives through the Brecon Beacons in search of visitors defying the strict Tier 4 coronavirus restrictions in place
The scenes come after a minibus of mixed households travelled to the area from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, and Dyfed-Powys Police had to stop one man who had driven from Hertfordshire to walk up Pen y Fan this week.
Inspector Andrew Williams, from Dyfed-Powys Police’s specialist operations (RPU) team, said: ‘We are carrying out high-visibility patrols at Storey Arms and engaging with people to remind them of their responsibilities to adhere to Welsh Government lockdown restrictions.
‘There were a couple of hundred vehicles in the area yesterday.
‘Officers spoke to one man who had driven from Hertfordshire to walk up Pen y Fan, while a minibus of people from mixed households had travelled from Cheltenham.
‘Fixed penalty notices have and will be issued to those blatant breaches where engagement fails, but the vast majority of people are listening to advice and when they are turning up and seeing RPU vehicles at the site, they are turning around and going home – which is the objective of our high visibility patrols.’
On December 20, Wales was plunged into Alert Level 4 restrictions which are the equivalent of England’s Tier 4 measures.
Under the measures, travelling is only permitted with a reasonable excuse such as caring responsibilities or work.
Despite the restrictions, yesterday hikers from different households in England travelled more than 75 miles in a minibus together to climb the Welsh mountain in defiance of the restrictions.
An officer speaks to a man at the busy Pen y Fan car park in the Brecon Beacons as visitors continue to arrive
A member of the force speaks with drivers arriving to the national park as the force urge people to stay away from the area
An officer talks to members of the public during checks on Penarth Seafront, south Wales
This month Wales was plunged into Alert Level 4 restrictions which means travelling is only permitted with a reasonable excuse
Police said the walkers were from mixed households and had travelled from Cheltenham to South Wales for a hike, even though ‘Level 4’ restrictions are in force in the region.
The hikers’ minibus was one of more than 300 vehicles parked at the foot of Pen y Fan mountain, which had received a dusting of snow.
Intensive care medic Dr David Hepburn said he was ‘very disappointed’ to see the mass of cars parked.
The consultant from the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport, said while he could understand why people wanted to visit beauty spots, he warned it was against the rules.
‘All the hospitals across the health board are now very, very full,’ he told the BBC.
‘In terms of the intensive care unit actually where we’re managing to sort of hold our footprint, and we haven’t exploded, you know we haven’t burst our banks as yet.
‘But we’ve still got quite a lot of time to go before this pandemic is under control, so really anything could happen over the next month or so.’
He added: ‘We don’t want to lose any more friends, loved ones, neighbours. I don’t want to watch anyone else die from this cruel disease, and I’ve done that more than I can count.’
Officers patrol Pen y Fan today as visitors continue to arrive to the highest peak in south Wales in their droves
Dr Hepburn was himself ‘wiped out’ by coronavirus in March, leaving him bedridden and asleep for up to 18 hours a day.
Pen y Fan is the highest peak in south Wales and popular with visitors wanting to reach the 2,907ft summit.
Police said they issued fixed penalty notices for ‘blatant’ breaches of lockdown rules and many other visitors had turned away.
Aled Davies, the Conservative deputy leader of Powys County Council, said he was ‘not angry, just disappointed’ to see people driving out to the rural areas of south Wales.
Mr Davies said: ‘I can understand why people want to get out into the fresh air’ but that ‘the rules are very, very clear around this.’
Yesterday Powys County Council said Wales was ‘not open’ for visitors to travel to from other parts of the UK, unless for essential reasons.
Cllr Graham Breeze, portfolio holder for corporate governance, engagement and regulatory services, said he was ‘shocked’ to see large numbers of people travelling to the Brecon Beacons to ‘enjoy the snow’.
The scenes come after a minibus of mixed households travelled to the area from Cheltenham, and Dyfed-Powys Police had to stop one man who had driven from Hertfordshire. Pictured: Cars parked below Pen y Fan
Dr Hepburn, a consultant in the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport, said he could understand why people wanted to visit beauty spots but he warned it was against the rules
‘We all know that getting out and about is good for your mental health, but please stick to the rules and stay close to home,’ he said.
‘We are at Alert Level 4 for a reason, because there has been a huge spike in Covid-19 cases which is affecting all parts of Wales.
‘It is putting a huge strain on our health and social care services and is placing the lives of our most vulnerable residents at risk.
‘Powys has some beautiful places to visit but they will still be here to enjoy after the large number of coronavirus cases has subsided, while some of your relatives and friends may not if they end up catching this deadly disease.
‘We need everyone to play their part and stay home over the days and weeks ahead – however tempting it may be to head to the county’s mountains, hills and lakes.’
Wales has been in a nationwide Level 4 lockdown since 20 December, with restrictions also tightened for Christmas Day.
The rules state that people must not visit other households, or meet other people they do not live with.
Travelling is only allowed for essential purposes, such as for work and for caring responsibilities. International travel is also not allowed.
Powys County Council said Wales was ‘not open’ for visitors to travel to from other parts of the UK
People are still allowed out of their homes to exercise, for unlimited times and periods each day, and exercise should start and finish at your home.
The increased police presence comes as mountain rescuers blasted Covidiots in the Lake District after receiving 70 per cent more callouts this month, compared to last December.
In total the 12 different teams of the Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Association (LDSMRA) responded to 31 calls for help this month.
But in December 2019 they only saw 18 callouts – an increase of 72 per cent.
LDSMRA chairman Richard Warren expressed his concern at the increase during a month that should have seen travel clampdowns.
Mr Warren said: ‘Team members are all unpaid volunteers. We must protect them from asymptomatic Covid casualties, even more so with the new strain that has already arrived in Cumbria.
‘We understand why people want to leave their Tier 3 and 4 areas, taking advantage of the wide open spaces in our parks.
‘But please remember that if a team is infected on a rescue it can mean the whole team has to isolate. This has to be avoided at all costs.’
The LDSMRA represents Cumbria’s 12 volunteer mountain and mine rescue teams – Cockermouth, Coniston, Duddon & Furness, Kendal, Keswick, Kirkby Stephen, Langdale Ambleside, Patterdale, Penrith, Wasdale.
It also includes the Lake District Mountain Rescue Search Dogs and COMRU (The Cumbria Ore Mines Rescue Unit).
Cumbria Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Andrew Slattery also slammed those flocking to the Lake District when unprepared or breaching restrictions.
ACC Slattery said: ‘The voluntary mountain rescue teams do a fantastic job, responding to incidents in all weathers throughout the year.
‘All the team members have had to take additional Covid precautions this year and that has added to the burden of routine callouts.
‘There is always the potential for accidents on our fells and they can happen to anybody.
‘But where callouts are avoidable through a lack of planning and preparation this just puts team members and their loved ones at unnecessary risk.
‘Venturing on to the fells at this time of year with limited daylight and extreme weather changes is a serious undertaking.
‘Please adhere to the guidance on travel from Tier 3 and 4 areas and ensure any outdoor activities are done well within the limits of your experience and equipment.’