Visitors to Wakehurst Place gardens in West Sussex have declined by 50 per cent after bosses started charging National Trust members up to £10 per day to park their cars.

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The shocking figures came to light following a Freedom of Information Act request from campaigners, who want charges abolished.

Between 1 April and 31 August 2013, 168,107 people visited Wakehurst Place, which is Kew’s country garden.

But during the same period this year, just 81,844 people visited, after the parking fees came into force in spring.

A petition on campaigning website www.change.org which calls on Kew’s management to drop parking charges at Wakehurst Place for National Trust members, has so far been signed by 1,648 people.

A Kew spokesperson said: “We are aware of the petition. We respect people’s right to sign it and express their views, but it is not appropriate for the petition to solely target individuals connected to Wakehurst and Kew.

“The decision to introduce charges was taken at the highest levels at the National Trust and
at Kew.”

Prior to the introduction of parking fees, 80 per cent of Wakehurst’s Place visitors accessed the gardens for free using National Trust membership, with “no direct income coming to Wakehurst from their membership payments”.

The spokesperson added: “Wakehurst Place currently runs at a £1.4 million loss as a result of this.

“Of the £2.2 million it takes to run Wakehurst every year, just £80,000 comes from an endowment administered by the National Trust on behalf of Wakehurst Place’s last private owner, Sir Henry Price.”