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DAERA-owned forests and country parks are currently being prepared to gradually lift restrictions.

The DAERA estate has been restricted to the public since late March in an effort to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

The Department has also been working with a range of providers of informal outdoor recreation sites throughout Northern Ireland such as parks, nature reserves, walking routes and associated facilities, to prepare for their reopening.

Speaking about the ongoing work, Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots MLA said: Our estate has been restricted to the public since late March in an effort to slow down the spread of Covid-19, but I am very aware of how much people have missed our outdoor spaces and doing the things they love like walking, cycling and running – the things that are good for our hearts and good for our minds.

“Therefore, I have asked my Department to make the necessary arrangements for DAERA-owned forests and country parks to gradually lift restrictions on a phased basis, starting with the reopening of car parks on Wednesday 27 May.

“Following discussions facilitated by my Department, many other organisations including councils, have now indicated that they too, will begin to reopen their car parks at many of their sites on that date.

The Minister asked people to park responsibly and said that other amenities will remain closed for now. The Minister said; “Until car parks are reopened on Wednesday, I am urging people not to park on footpaths and verges. I am also asking people to be sensible about how far they travel once car parking is available, as other on-site DAERA facilities such as toilets, visitor centres, cafes or playparks will remain closed and their reopening will be considered at a later stage.

“I am taking these decisions based on the most up-to-date scientific evidence, the ability of the health service to cope and the wider impacts on our health, society and the economy.”

The Minister continued: “I’d like to thank the public for their remarkable response to the Covid-19 restrictions and remind everyone again that this first step, is just that – it’s the start of our journey towards recovery and we must never let our guard down. While I intend to gradually open up our estate in stages, people must still respect social distancing measures.

“If you are coming to our sites remember the toilets remain closed so plan your visit accordingly. Take pleasure from your surroundings and dispose of rubbish carefully or take it home, and please continue to protect yourselves and socially distance.”