28 January 2016 by Helen Todd
From March 2017, anyone wishing to camp along approximately 150km of loch shores within the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park will find they are faced with a ban, and a potential criminal record if they decide to go ahead anyway even if they are doing so responsibly. Despite strong opposition from Ramblers Scotland and other recreation bodies including the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, Scottish Canoe Association and the government agency sportscotland, the Scottish Government has now approved byelaws that will ban informal camping between March and September across huge swathes of the park, in precisely those areas which are most accessible and attractive. This includes significant stretches of the West Highland Way and some cycle paths.
The rugged mountains, forests and lochs of Scotland’s first national park abound with recreation opportunities. Fifty per cent of the Scottish population live within an hour’s drive of the national park and 4 million people visit each year, making the most of Scotland’s world-class public rights of access. These rights also include the right to camp away from campsites as long as it’s done responsibly, a much-treasured and time-honoured way of getting close to nature and engaging with the great outdoors. This is especially true for young people whose first real outdoor trip may be a camping expedition with the scouts, or simply experiencing the wonderment of a night in a tent pitched beside the car with their parents, something they will remember all their lives.
Of course, with rights come responsibilities and ‘Leave no trace’ principles embedded within the Scottish Outdoor Access Code are crucial in driving forward the message that we should behave in a caring and responsible manner in the outdoors, protecting our natural heritage as we enjoy the enriching experiences it brings. Many thousands of people do indeed camp in line with the Code throughout Scotland each year. However it’s also true that, in the national park especially, problems can arise from many tents using the same ground week after week and causing damage, or occasionally from a minority of visitors who come to party, leaving litter and tents behind when they leave and causing concern to the local community. But it’s too easy to equate informal camping with anti-social behaviour and believe that a ban on camping would resolve all problems. Since 2011, the park has created just 29 new camping spots and yet it has counted up to 800 tents on busy weekends. Surely if there is a huge demand to visit and enjoy these places, that’s exactly what the park was set up to encourage and manage? It is in line with government policy, after all, to get people outdoors and this is an inexpensive activity for many individuals and families on low incomes.
Dealing with camping issues
Our approach to the latest byelaw proposals was to call for investment in infrastructure, such as campsites, toilets and litter bins, and enforcement of existing legislation on littering, vandalism and anti-social behaviour. Coupled with education efforts and traffic management measures, we believe this would achieve a long term change in behaviour. Such solutions are all laid out in National Access Forum guidance on managing camping pressures which was drawn up after a long consultation with landowning and recreation interests but has been ignored by the park. Byelaws are part of the toolkit but should be used as a last resort. Many other organisations and individuals agreed with us. We now fear many people will simply go elsewhere, moving the pressures to land outwith the park calling for more bans.
It’s part of our purpose as a charity to encourage more people to enjoy and benefit from our wonderful countryside and our valued access rights. As a national recreation body we look forward to working with the park authority, the community and organisations to develop plans around new camping provision within the park. We are also ready to play our part in devising a national strategy to promote understanding of rights and responsibilities and stop the blight of litter and anti-social behaviour which has led us to this situation. We want to ensure that these byelaws are not renewed in three years’ time when they come up for review and that the park welcomes everyone to enjoy their full access rights responsibly in this wonderful, natural place.