Drivers will be stopped from approaching a pair of in-demand Aberdeenshire beauty spots if they become too crowded this summer.
As restrictions eased for the first time last year, thousands of residents enjoyed their freedom to explore the beautiful countryside and scenery the region offers.
However, as a result of the huge influx of visitors, many communities reported widespread littering, dirty camping, and damage caused by barbecues and campfires.
A particular issue was motorists filling the car parks at Linn o’ Dee and Glen Muick in Deeside, which are two of the most popular destinations for walkers and hikers in the north-east.
On occasion, the two areas were so busy that drivers left their vehicles parked in passing places and turning areas, causing major issues for access in emergencies.
To help address the issue, Aberdeenshire Council will restrict entry to Glen Muick and the Linn o’ Dee when necessary for seven months from April 1, as the government once again starts to loosen restrictions.
Grant Moir, chief executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA), said the roads will only be closed to additional motorists when they become so busy that to allow any more visitors would cause severe problems, and that walkers, cyclists, emergency vehicles, landowners and residents will still be permitted.
He said the move came after traffic management at the Linn o’ Dee was trialled last year, and “proved to be very useful mechanisms for managing high volumes of visitors”.
Mr Moir said: “In effect, when the car parks at these locations became full, access to these roads was restricted to ensure that the area was safe and to reduce parking at the sides of the road that became dangerous.”
The CNPA is also looking to put in place variable message signs to help the public know where is or is not too busy, and work is undergoing to increase car parking capacity at a number of locations, including the Linn o’ Dee.
Seasonal rangers have also been hired by the CNPA to patrol certain areas.
Alan Wood, director of infrastructure services for Aberdeenshire Council, said the local authority and its partners like the CNPA are acting now to encourage people to behave responsibly while in the great outdoors, “to ensure we don’t see a repeat of last year’s problems”.
He said: ”We made it abundantly clear last year that we want people to enjoy our beautiful scenery, our attractions and the warm welcome you get in our towns and villages.
“The majority of people have respected our communities and we thank them for that.
“But we simply cannot have a repeat of the selfish behaviour and unsafe practices which were observed the length and breadth of Aberdeenshire last summer.
“We do not want to see an influx of visitors across the Aberdeenshire countryside causing congestion at our country parks, woodlands, uplands and coastal areas and the wider road network.
“Of course the easing of lockdown arrangements will be welcomed by everyone – particularly after a tough winter – but it remains absolutely critical that we ensure we all fully understand the guidelines before we emerge back into our communities.”
The council’s ranger service has encouraged people to always have a “plan B” in case their destinations are too crowded on arrival, and explore more of the north-east’s hidden gems.
Fiona Banks, ranger service coordinator for the council, said: “We understand that people will want to visit some of the more well-known attractions, but we have so many wonderful areas of countryside and coastline in Aberdeenshire that it’s not worth risking our health or impacting on the countryside when it’s clearly become too crowded.
“So please have a back-up plan – if an area feels too busy or the car park is full, move to your Plan B site.”