JUST weeks after Bournemouth’s Russell-Cotes Arts Gallery and Museum introduced admission charges, VisitEngland has announced that some of England’s paid-for attractions have suffered dips in visitor numbers.

While free entry to many famous museums has helped swell admissions to leading tourist spots, admission charges have led to a drop in visitor numbers at attractions including Westminster Abbey, Kew Gardens and London Zoo.

Admission to Poole Museum is free but last month saw the launch of a controversial three-month scheme at Bournemouth’s Russell Cotes museum, piloting a £5 entry fee during the summer months.

Poole museum manager Michael Spender said: “We have seen an increase in visitor numbers this year of nearly ten per cent and free admission provides access to as many people as possible.

“We have no plans to introduce admission charges but have been increasing our income generation through donations, our shop and hire; most recently for weddings.”

Meanwhile the Russell-Cotes’ heritage manager Sue Hayward said: “We are currently trialing an admission charge for visitors to help the museum stay sustainable and successful and we have aimed to keep the cost down.

“Whilst we have experienced a decrease in visitor numbers since introducing the admission charge this has been significantly less than we anticipated. It is too early to know the full impact. We are also offering a new membership scheme.”

The biggest draw last year proved to be the British Museum in London where free admission boosted numbers to 5.84 million – nearly five per cent more than in 2009.

The second biggest attraction was the admission-free Tate Modern in London which welcomed 5.06 million.

Among free admission tourist spots, where numbers increased the most during 2010, were the capital’s Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum and Tate Britain.

Visits to museums and art galleries rose five per cent, with higher increases among those that were free.

Visit England chief executive James Berresford said: “We know Britons are more worried about the economy and this will have an impact on their holiday choices.”