A police force has defended using a drone camera to shame people into not driving into a national park during the lockdown, while another force said it was introducing roadblocks to stop drivers heading to tourist hotspots.
Derbyshire police tweeted drone footage taken near Curbar Edge, in the Peak District, saying the force had checked the numberplates of vehicles in the car park and some cars were registered to addresses in Sheffield, a 30-minute drive away.
The police forces insist members of the public should not be driving anywhere to walk their dogs or exercise. However, the Guardian checked with the Cabinet Office, which is overseeing the new restrictions on movement, and a spokeswoman confirmed that the guidelines do not prohibit driving somewhere for exercise or dog walking.
“Despite posts yesterday highlighting issues of people still visiting the #PeakDistrict despite government guidance, the message is still not getting through. @DerPolDroneUnit have been out at beauty spots across the county, and this footage was captured at #CurbarEdge last night,” the force tweeted.
It added: “Some number plates were coming back to keepers in #Sheffield, so we know that people are travelling to visit these areas. Daily exercise should be taken locally to your home. Under government guidance all travel is limited to essential travel only. Travelling to remote areas of the #PeakDistrict for your exercise is not essential travel. PLEASE, #StayHomeSaveLives.”
A spokesman for Derbyshire police insisted there was nothing sinister about the drone deployment.
“It’s not Big Brother. It’s just to illustrate the fact that people are going out and making these journeys against the government’s rules. The rules are clear that people should avoid all non-essential travel and exercise and walk their dogs near their homes. If they drive into the Peaks and have a collision or breakdown or go for a walk and fall over, we’re the ones who will be called, or mountain rescue,” he said.
The drone operator wasn’t hidden, he added: “The pilot was standing next to a liveried police vehicle close to the car park while people were coming in and out.”
The police enforcement in national parks came after a weekend of overcrowding. In Snowdonia, national park authorities said Saturday was the busiest on record, and closed all car parks to deter visitors.
Under measures announced on Monday by Boris Johnson, members of the public are allowed out of their homes for one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk or cycle, alone or with members of their household.
The government guidance does not specify how long this exercise can last or how far a distance it can cover. It does not specifically ban driving somewhere to walk a pet or exercise, but makes clear that all non-essential travel should be avoided.
In North Yorkshire, police said they were going to set up checkpoints to determine if drivers’ journeys were essential.
The move is being introduced to ensure motorists are complying with government restrictions, North Yorkshire police said. “Officers will be stopping vehicles and asking motorists where they are going, why they are going there, and reminding them of the message to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives,” the force said in a statement.
The checkpoints will be unannounced and anywhere across the county.
Assistant chief constable Mike Walker said: “The new and significant restrictions … spell out very clearly what each and every one of us must do to save lives. The message is clear and the warning stark: stay at home, save lives.
“These are the lives of the people we know and love. Our partners, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, grandparents. You may never be in such a position again where your simple actions will lead directly to saving lives.”
Elsewhere, police in west and mid Wales have begun stopping drivers to check their journeys are essential, and are also patrolling public spaces and tourist hotspots.
Dyfed-Powys roads policing inspector Andy Williams said: “More people on the roads means a greater likelihood of vehicles breaking down or being involved in an accident, which puts extra strain on the emergency services. These extra interactions also increase the chances of the virus spreading and putting more people’s lives in danger.”
On Wednesday, North Wales police sent a family of five home after they were caught travelling from Merseyside to Llanfairfechan for a day at the seaside. In a Facebook post, the force’s Conwy coastal unit said: “Officers are out patrolling and it is pleasing to see that most people are sticking to the government advice.”