THE last weekend before the government further eased the lockdown guidelines saw thousands of people descending on West Yorkshire’s crowded beauty spots.

Seemingly ignoring social distancing rules, picnickers settled themselves on the banks of the River Wharfe, at Ilkley, as well as flocking to scramble among the town’s Cow and Calf rocks.

The influx of people comes as the Government and scientific advisors lock horns on whether ‘restriction easing’ was being carried out too soon.

From Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said groups of up to six people will be able to meet outside in England as long as they observe social distancing as part of efforts to fight coronavirus.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “This is a sensitive moment. We can’t just stay in lockdown forever. We have got to transition.”

In addition to the social distancing easing, more than two million clinically extremely vulnerable people who have been shielding since March will finally be allowed to spend time with other people outdoors.

However, this news was received with caution and followed criticism that this group has been left feeling ‘forgotten’.

Phil Anderson, head of policy at the MS Society, said people would want to hear the scientific evidence behind the decision, which he described as having “come out of the blue”.

The new freedoms, which will come into effect officially after a hot weekend which has enticed people to beaches and beauty spots, must be treated with caution, England’s deputy chief medical officer has insisted.

Professor Van-Tam said the Government and public had a “dual responsibility” to prevent a second wave of the virus, describing now as a “very dangerous moment”.

Addressing the public’s responsibility in stark terms while he took part in the daily Downing Street briefing on Saturday, he said: “Don’t tear the pants out of it, and don’t go further than the guidance actually says.”

Around the district’s beauty spots it was evident that people were taking advantage of the hot, dry weather and crowds were gathering in public places where social distancing was difficult to carry out.

A police officer present near the Cow and Calf rocks car park said they were asking people to respect the guidelines.

“There are people here from Manchester and Sheffield. It is mad. I can’t understand why they would want to come to overcrowded places. There must be at least 15 footpath walks around here with very few people on them. Instead they crowd into one place. We’re doing our best to educate them that they should observe social distancing but it’s not easy.”

A West Yorkshire Police spokesman said they were doing what they could to encourage people to respect others without using strong enforcement.

He said: “West Yorkshire Police urges people to continue to observe social distancing rules and to follow Government guidance.

“Throughout the period of lockdown measures, officers have worked hard to engage with the community around social distancing in public places and ensure compliance.

“We hope the compliance we have seen from the vast majority of people will continue and our approach will continue to focus on engaging, explaining and encouraging, with enforcement as a last resort, should it be necessary.

Bradford councillor Mike Gibbons, (Ilkley, Conservative) hit out at those who were flouting the guidelines and said he was dismayed at the number of people visiting Ilkley while the lockdown restrictions were still in force.

Speaking about this weekend he said: “I am disappointed that once again we see so many people breaking the social distancing regulations.

“They are not only endangering other people, but also themselves. I know my council colleagues share the view that the dreadful parking makes the situation worse.

“The ability of emergency vehicles to try and pass this congestion endangers lives.”

He said hordes of people making their way to Ilkley had been going on during lockdown for some time.

He added: “There have been large numbers of people out and about at the riverside on a daily basis. We would all wish that people use common sense. We may need to send for reinforcements, such as council wardens if it doesn’t get any better.”