CUSTODIANS of the Yorkshire Dales National Park have launched action to take the best advantage of what is believed to be a surge in first time-visitors and young people to the area post-lockdown.

Amid concerns over the extent of damage to the tourism-dependent area’s economy from the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2,179sq km park’s authority said ahead of visitor-related businesses reopening there had been an increase in visitors wanting to walk, cycle and get fresh air.

Residents and traders in the park have said at the heart of the increase there appeared to be particularly high numbers of younger visitors, a trend which has been linked to the release of the unprecedented restrictions.

Alongside potential economic benefits, the reported increase is being welcomed as connecting young people with nature is a key theme of the government’s ‘8-Point Plan for national parks’. The recently-launched 25-year Environment Plan set a national target for English national park authorities to double the number of schoolchildren they engage with directly each year, from 60,000 to 120,000.

Earlier this month Neil Heseltine, the authority’s deputy chairman, said it had been “heartening to see a younger profile of visitor alongside first-time visitors, and key workers coming out to clear their heads and get some well earned exercise”, an officers’ report to its Local Access Forum states they want to keep those people coming.

The report states: “With crisis comes opportunity and the anecdotal observation tells us that the visitors to the national park are younger than the usual demographic and many may be first-time visitors.

“We are working on how to keep this audience informed and engaged as well as to ensure that those who need the access to the national park the most can do so (key workers and people who have no access to the countryside during lockdown).”

To capture any momentum, the authority will next week dispatch its rangers to spread the word and hand out a new leaflet on the countryside code, one of a number of fresh communications it will issue.

North Yorkshire County Council Upper Dales councillor Yvonne Peacock, who runs a tea room in Wensleydale, said re-establishing the tourist trade was vital for the community and increasing visits from young people would help the area bounce back.

She said tourism businesses in the area had always wanted visitors of all ages, but it hadn’t been easy to encourage young people to visit as the Dales “had not been at the top of their priority list”.

Describing the authority’s promotional work as “absolutely ideal”, she added: “When people discover the Dales they come back. We’ve seen in the past how youngsters come to youth hostels or visit with Scouts and often return later with their families.”