This is not a blog that rants or chooses one side. I do have my views and I may mention these as I write this. But rather, it is an article that aims to inform and educate. It is based on interviews and research, as well as some anecdotal evidence. From it you can take what you want and decide whether you agree or disagree. I’d hope that I do not face abuse if people do not agree with what I am saying.
Scotland is rightly proud of its forward-thinking Outdoor Access Code that was created in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act of 2003. This created a structure and policy to allow for an amazing freedom of access – including wild camping rights – in Scotland’s great outdoors.
The Act also created a means for amendments, should it be perceived to be required.
The Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park (LL&TNP) authorities have seen fit to use the amendment facility as a mean to create a byelaw that stipulates new Camping Management Zones in the park.
The LL&TNP has been working since 2002 to try to solve what they describe as “a growing problem with environmental damage caused by large numbers of visitors and campers to certain areas of the park”.
It’s claimed the numbers of visitors has grown considerably since the Scottish Outdoors Access Code was introduced
It’s claimed – and has been shown through numerous photographic evidence – that popular areas of the park are being damaged environmentally. This includes general wear and tear from the sheer number of campers and visitors and also specific damage that is classed as vandalism, such as campers chopping down living trees, as well as fire damage and rubbish left behind.
It’s said, too, that people are put off camping in the park in some areas where “over-camping” occurs, or where there are anti-social campers. The new Camping Management Zones are also said to be aimed at encouraging more people to camp but in a nicer environment.
The new Camping Management Zones are deemed, by the park authorities, as a practical way to reduce environmental damage to “cherished areas” that are highly visited. (I asked if other solutions were sought and I was told the zones were thought to the best plan after a lot of consideration.)
The Camping Management Zones will operate from March to September in 4% of the park’s 720 square mile area.
The areas have been identified as the busiest in the park, often on lochsides, and also areas where safety can not be ensured, such as where camping would require dangerous or illegal parking.
People walking the West Highland Way may find they need to buy a permit or use provided campsites. In fact, the youth hostel at Rowardennan is providing extra camping space in their grounds and there are campsites already close to Rowardennan. Gordon Watson, Chief Executive at Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, says: “We do not see the west Highland Way walkers themselves as a problem because most are responsible campers but it’s simply that these areas where they might camp in the park are some of the busiest and so we need to have permits on some sections of the trail. We have tried to offer extra camping spots here.”
To camp in the zones, visitors will be required to pay for a permit.
Permits and what you need to know
- Permits cost £3 per tent or motorhome/campervan per night. (Not £3 per person.)
- You can book a camping permit for up to three nights in one area.
- You can book up to 8 weeks in advance.
- You will be given a specific permit area number to camp in.
- You can arrive from 1pm and must depart by 11am on the day you are leaving.
- The full terms and conditions for campers and motorhomes provide important information about your stay.
- Organised groups such as Duke of Edinburgh, Scouts, and youth organisations are excluded form the payment for a permit. If they want to camp in a Camping Management Zone they must apply online for permission. There is no charge for these types of groups to camp in a Camping Management Zone.
Why £3? This fee is considered to be a small enough amount not to put people off camping but also enough of an incentive to turn up to camp if a permit is purchased. (The park would rather as many people as possible – as permits allow – to take up their camping spot rather than people simply signing up for a permit that is not used an therefore not available to others.)
The permit allows people (allocated numbers per zone) to turn up on their chosen night or nights and pick a wild camping spot. They are not told exactly where to camp but shown areas where camping is allowed. (I have not seen these areas on the ground but I am told the camping will be “wild style”. It will still feel like wild camping in most places.)
There are trials of campervanning and motorhome laybys, too. Campervan and motorhome overnights are not actually governed by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code so it this is an added extra to offer “wild” places to park a van overnight. These will operate on the same permit system. (The park tells me there is a demand for vans spots but that some motorhome owners have been seen to set up camp in one layby for months at a time, therefore stopping others using the layby. We have all seen this happening I imagine.)
In the rest of the 96% of the park, people can still wild camp just as they did before. Watson said: “People can walk just 200m from a road, away from the zones, and still wild camp without a permit. It’s the same as it has been since the Land Reform act of 2003 and in the vast majority of the park. It is just 4% of the park that will have the camping zones and for seven months annually.”
The park has created a claimed 320 camping and motorhome places in the byelaw zones. “Whether this will be enough or manageable will be accessed as we go forward,” says Watson. “We do not want to limit wild camping in the park or spoil people’s experiences but to manage the environment by carefully limiting the camping in busy period.”
In addition, there are new campsites being created with some limited facilities, such as toilet and running water.
The byelaws also give more power to the park rangers.
The rangers can issue a charge for either a camping or fire offence and instruct someone to leave. If they have been asked to leave and refuse to do so there will be an additional charge of refusing to leave.
This is the same as under the existing East Loch Lomond byelaws, but this was largely carried out by the police. Because the new bye-laws cover a wider area, the Park Authority will be able to submit a report to the Procurator Fiscal, when necessary, directly.
The Rangers do not have the power to arrest or forcibly remove people from the Management Zones and will work closely with the Police if a situation escalates to a serious level of anti-social or other criminal behaviour.
By introducing the permit system, the park also have the ability to submit a report to the Procurator Fiscal after an event if people who have booked are found to have left a camping permit area or campsite in an unacceptable state after they have used it.
Watson says: “The key thing we want to emphasise is that our rangers will still focus on education and engagement firstly, talking to people about their behaviour and giving them every opportunity to comply with the bye-laws. A report to the Crown service or calling the police is absolutely the last resort.”
There is a dedicated police officer in the park and the park pay for extra shifts for police during busy times. They have done this for the last decade.
The permit system will also act as a form of education. When buying a permit people must sign a list of terms and conditions. Watson says: “This is not about strict rules but about helping campers to understand their responsibility to caring for the environment. It will cover topics such as littering, toileting, fire lighting and pollution, such as not removing tents and equipment when they leave.”
Permits will require the contact details of the campers so that it will be possible to follow up a situation where damage has been caused by campers.
If a camper is found to be camping without a permit in the management zones they will be asked to pay for one. Only if they refuse will there be fines. Watson says: “Again, it’s not about fining people or strict measures but about education. The cost of the permits is not a money-raising objective. It takes a lot more money than that to look after the park.”
As before, the rangers can issue fines for littering but it’s hoped that when rangers ask campers to pick up litter they will do so and therefore a penalty will not be required.
The campaigns against the byelaw
There are plenty of people that object to the new byelaw. Nick Kempe makes his points on Park Watch Scotland. Take a read and see what you think. In particular, he asks more recently about how the byelaw will actually be enforced.
Ramblers Scotland has also started a campaign that will take steps to review what happens on the ground with the new management zones. You can see a video made by Ramblers Scotland director on Twitter. This makes the point that the park management zones will face a full review in 2020.
Other people, including some leading outdoors figures, fundamentally disagree with the new Camping Management Zones and have voiced their opinions on social media. I have followed some of these posts and blogs. Unfortunately, some of the points are not based on facts nor have they sought proper evidence but the general feeling that our Scottish Outdoors Access Code rights have been eroded is valid, in my opinion.
(The problem is that many people now think that the park is out of bounds to wild campers. This is putting off potential visitors but I make the point later on in this article that wild camping is still very much allowed in 96% of the park, should you wish to do so.)
There are worries, too, that the step by the LL&TNP is simply the start of further erosion of the code and Land Reform (Scotland) Act as we go forward.
I agree with some of the objections but my question has always been: What do we do to protect over used and some abused camping spots in Scotland? The Ramblers suggest that education about responsible camping should come first and that is something I agree with but perhaps there is argument that this will not work quickly enough to make a difference.
Again, it does feel like the minority of idiots are affecting the sensible and considerate majority but what if this minority is significantly affecting the environment and the peaceable camping of others? (I think of other areas of Scotland, Glen Etive, for example where no amount of education and social media campaigns appear to stop a disrespectful few littering, toileting and generally abusing a beautiful place for camping.)
Underlying all this is a “it’s not fair” emotion but I do wonder what other practical, meaningful and sensible solutions people have for maintaining our beautiful Scottish landscapes and environment?
Let’s think about wild camping again
I also have an opinion on wild camping that makes me feel a bit better about the controversial subject, although not completely at ease. And this is purely a selfish point of view. I do not think that wild camping is anything much to do with driving a car to a layby or road-side, parking, pulling out a tent bought from a supermarket, pitching it a metre away and then having a noisy party. And after all that leaving the tent behind because it’s too much hassle to throw it back in the car.
To me, wild camping is getting off the beaten track, even if it’s only a short way from the beaten track. It’s about enjoying an adventure, even a micro-adventure, and camping in a beautiful spot surrounded by nature and away from roads and built up places.
I don’t mean you have to go dozens of miles to truly enjoy a wild camping experience but I do think you need to walk away from the roads and the car and camp where you can’t be seen or heard by others.
In the park, it’s possible to wild camp lawfully and without a permit just 200m from a zone. I prefer to walk a bit further and find a spot where no-one else is. It doesn’t take much to do that and it means I do not need to get a permit.
Of course, there are plenty of other forms of camping, such as camp-sites camping, festivals, glamping and even those wonderful hobbit lodges. But these are not what wild camping means to me.
The reason I write this is because whether the 4% is a fact (unless someone goes out an measures the “camping management zones” with a tape who will ever know?), or even if it’s 10%, most of the places that have been identified by the national park as being covered by the bye-laws are not where I’d choose to wild camp anyway. These areas are too close to the roads and villages and towns and other people. I prefer my wild camping to be much wilder than this.
And there is another argument. The campsites, which the park are suggesting are “wild style” might actually encourage more people, especially families, to go out and camp, albeit in a more refined way than before.
Lots of people would like to camp, wild style, in a beautiful area and in popular spots that are highly accessible but they might well be put off by noisy neighbours or over-crowding. I haven’t experienced this personally but I have seen anti-social camping in several areas of the park. (I run a mile form these!)
I have no idea how the zones will operate in reality and whether they will be workable. Will they discourage those that created the disturbances in the first place? I hope so. I do also hope that they do not push the annoying minority further afield to make a mess and noise in other places that are not zoned (so far?).
But what I do know is that my kind of wild camping is still easily accessed in Scotland and in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park. Even on the east side of Loch Lomond it will be possible for me to walk, with a back pack and tent, to a quiet place to wild camp without any one being bothered at all. That’s because they won’t know I’m there. And, in fact, my actions are still legal and covered by the Scottish Outdoor Access Cede.
I am not saying that I am turning my back on the zoning argument but I do know that it will not affect my style of wild camping.
What is wild camping in Scotland?
In case you’re not sure, wild camping in Scotland is a type of camping described as lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place.
If you are wild camping you must aim to avoid causing problems for local people and land managers by not camping in enclosed fields of crops or farm animals and by keeping well away from buildings, roads or historic structures.
You should take extra care to avoid disturbing deer stalking or grouse shooting. If you wish to camp close to a house or building, you should seek the owner’s permission.
The Scottish Outdoor Access Code doesn’t allow car or vehicular access to camp or long stays that impact on the local environment.
You can find out more about your rights and responsibilities on the Scottish Outdoor Access Code website.
Above all, what I hope, is that the bye-laws do not put off the majority of people from visiting Scotland. I’ll be keeping a close eye on how the new park camping zones work and whether people are still able to enjoy the freedom to wild camp away from these permitted zones.
It’s a controversial subject and I have tried to stick to the facts rather than ranting. I am sure there will be those who are angry with me for not getting up on a soap box to shout down the park authorities. But I prefer to state the facts and let people make up their own minds. As we go forward we’ll see whether the new byelaws are effective or not, and then, we can all make our voices heard through various campaigns should we choose to, or not.