Cornwall’s tourism chief faced criticism yesterday after he urged visitors to stay away from the county’s beaches.

Visit Cornwall chief executive Malcolm Bell suggested in a radio interview that the region’s coastline was at risk of “over-tourism”, blaming the BBC television series Poldark.

The county’s beaches are among its top destinations but Bell warned that their popularity as the backdrop to Ross Poldark’s cliff-top horse rides and bare-chested adventures had led to unsustainable levels of overcrowding, The Times reported.

The tourism board stopped promoting its coastline in brochures and online campaigns for the first time this summer, amid fears that “over-tourism” risked damaging the beaches and spoiling the quality of life for residents.

Bell said: “It’s funny – you would think a tourism board would be over the moon at having lots of visitors but we don’t want local communities up in arms. We want visitors to have a good experience and return.”

He acknowledged the irony of a tourism boss trying to drive down visitor numbers.

“Poldark has been the catalyst,” he said. “We are in a fortunate position but we don’t want to be a destination that people go to once and don’t return. We want people to come back.

“The danger is that the car parks get full so no one can get parked, the footpaths get damaged, the litter bins can’t cope with the rubbish and the locals can’t get anywhere because the roads are so congested. So we end up with frustrated visitors and really frustrated locals. That’s what we want to avoid. This is a sustainability issue.”

Asked what the local businesses might make of the tourist board’s strategy, Bell said: “It’s many of the businesses who have been asking for this.”

He said that campaigns would try to “redistribute” tourists from Kynance Cove on the Lizard peninsula, which has featured in Poldark, Porthcurno, near Land’s End, and the beach near by at Pedn Vounder. Visitors would be encouraged to go to places such as Looe and Coverack, where they would be “welcome”.

“One of my requests to the people of Cornwall, particularly in areas where visitors are welcome, is send us pictures of those wonderful places if you’d like to see more visitors,” Bell said. “We can pump those out through social media.”

But Jane Lyndhurst, who lets a second home in Helston, Cornwall, said: “It’s like putting up Keep Out signs saying we don’t want you here.

“What a crazy thing to say — that we don’t want too many holidaymakers because it irritates the people who live here all year round.

“Cornwall has some of the best beaches you can find anywhere, so why would the tourist board want to put people off visiting? It doesn’t make sense.

“I shouldn’t think the pubs, hotels, guest houses and campsites will be very impressed. Things are tough enough for them anyway without the tourist board telling people not to come. It’s going to hurt the little guys like us.”