Sunday, 14 November 2010

Wild camping

The laws on walking in Scotland and England are radically different; they mirror the differing land uses and histories of both countries. England tends to be much more heavily populated with heavier land use.

One of the things I hate is having to divert off a trail to head to official campsites or B&Bs, especially if I am carrying all my camping gear. Worse, some campsites charge £20 or more for a single person with a tent and no car. This is wildly extortionate.

Therefore it is often tempting to wild camp instead; to find somewhere out of the way and put my tent up as near to the trail as possible. And so I do. The problem is, though, that I rarely get a good night's sleep whilst wild camping. I go to sleep worried about someone coming along and turfing me off the land or worse (having an active imagination can have downsides), and wake up early, wanting to get away before a farmer comes along with his shotgun.

Despite these fears, I have never had a problem, and have never once been told to 'get orf me land'.  Indeed, once a Yorkshire farmer actually invited me in for a lovely (and massive) cooked breakfast. There are several reasons for this: I always try to camp in as hidden a place as possible (despite having a bright yellow tent); I never leave anything scattered around and put all my belongings in my tent, and I never, ever, camp where this is livestock. As you can imagine, it sometimes takes me a while to find a good camping spot, especially in lowland areas.

For these reasons, I would love for wild camping to become legal in England and Wales. Of course, there would have to be caveats and restrictions that gave landowners some security. Scotland has recently clarified the laws on wild camping. The new rules are (reproduced from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland):
Camping lightweight, in small numbers, for only 2 or 3 nights in any one place on any land where access rights apply is also a right. But to help limit problems for local people and land managers, use common sense and avoid enclosed fields of crops and animals, keep away from buildings and roads. If there's no alternative seek the owner's approval. Wherever you camp, Leave No Trace.
Which all seems reasonable, and would be applicable to England and Wales as well. Gardens would have to be added as a restriction, and I would also add 'out of reasonable view of houses' and 'no camp fires'. Risk of pollution by human waste would also have to be addressed.

A downside would be the effect on the local economy. Many B&Bs in rural areas rely on the outdoor trade, and this would necessarily reduce the numbers. However, I would guess that the number of people willing to wild camp would be dwarfed by the number of ramblers who book into B&B's each weekend. Additionally, even wild campers need to find somewhere to wash and shower occasionally.

Perhaps (and I am loathe to say this), we could even have a licence to wild camp. To get this, you would have to complete a course about how to camp responsibly. Only then can you take advantage of the wilds. This is probably a non-starter, and could well be unnecessary.

I know that, however responsible I personally may be, that others will not. Someone will always abuse laws, and this is why camping has been banned on some areas of the West Highland Way. So, could a wild camping law in England and Wales work?

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