A controversial proposal to extend anti-wild-camping byelaws in Loch lomond and The Trossachs National Park has been given the go-ahead by Scottish Government Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Dr Aileen McLeod. The new seasonal camping ban will come into effect in 2017, and run from 1 March - 30 September every year.
Under the plan four management zones will cover easily accessible loch shores and laybys throughout the park - in total 3.7% of the park area. Here informal loch side camping will be allowed by permit only, so that it can be managed at 'sustainable levels'. As an alternative to this regulated wild camping, sites with basic facilities will also be provided. In the first year of the new regime there's a promise of 300 low-cost camping places, with an intention to add further capacity later.
As a response to problems with anti social behaviour, seasonal byelaws have been in force on the east shore of Loch Lomond for some years, and their supporters claim they have worked. However the area they cover is currently limited, while elsewhere in the National Park camping of the booze-and-barbecues variety has remained a big issue. The Park Authority has been increasingly concerned that the natural beauty and economy of the area is being severely affected.
The problems - and it's hard to miss them - range from litter and fire damage to summer-long caravan encampments in laybys, the abandonment of entire campsites - tents and all - drunken antics, live trees being cut for firewood and people crapping all over the place.
'This is tremendously positive news for all those who, like us, want to protect and enhance some of Scotland’s most precious natural places' said National Park Authority Convener Linda McKay.
'These carefully considered proposals reflect the views of a wide body of interests and demonstrate the delicate balance that needs to be struck when caring for our National Parks. We firmly believe that the combination of improved camping facilities alongside management of camping pressures on our loch shores will encourage people to enjoy everything that’s great about Scotland outdoors, while protecting Loch Lomond & The Trossachs for this generation, and the next.'
But will a ban solve the problems, or merely displace them elsewhere? Does such regimentation have a place in the great outdoors? Is it proportionate? And what of Scotland's much-vaunted public access laws, which include a right to wild camp? Critics of the plan have many objections, and in recent months a sometimes-acrimonious debate has raged over the proposals (see here).
The camping ban is a blunt instrument, say the many organisations that have been campaigning against it, a regime which affects responsible wild campers along with the hooligans.
Jess Dolan, Director of Ramblers Scotland said:
'This is a sad day for everyone who holds Scottish access rights dear. The national park itself has admitted that most of the anti-social problems arising from some camping activities are caused by a lack of infrastructure and enforcement of existing legislation. Therefore we are disappointed that the Minister has decided to approve byelaws, albeit with a short delay before they come into effect.'
'We are aware of very strong feelings on this matter from our members, visitors to the park and others enjoying outdoor recreation in Scotland. The vast majority of people who camp in the park and across Scotland are doing so responsibly and they will now be penalised by this byelaw. We don’t condone anti-social behaviour and believe that there is existing legislation which should be properly implemented to tackle any problems arising from any anti-social behaviour in the park.'
'It’s important to ensure all visitors to our countryside understand their rights and also their responsibilities in terms of camping, whether in a tent on top of a mountain or by the side of a road in a campervan. We are therefore calling upon both of our national parks, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish government, local communities and recreation bodies to work together to devise a national strategy to promote these messages and stop the blight of litter and anti-social behaviour which has led us to this situation.'
'We do not want to see any more byelaws restricting access in Scotland and will be working to ensure that these byelaws are not renewed in three years’ time when they come up for review.'
And David Gibson, CEO of the MCofS, echoed those sentiments:
'While the decision by the Minister to approve byelaws is most disappointing, she does acknowledge that steps must be taken by the Park Authority to manage lochside issues more effectively' he said.
'We felt that Police Scotland and the Park Authority already had those powers and that the new byelaws were completely unnecessary.'
'There is some positive news in that the Park Authority is required to accelerate the well overdue introduction of new camping facilities prior to the implementation of the byelaws.'
'We believe that an outcome of the byelaws will be that they will criminalise those who would otherwise wish to exercise their rights to wild camp responsibly under the terms of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. As such, this decision goes against the rights to responsible access provided in the Act.'
'While we do not consider this to be a positive day for access rights in Scotland, we will continue to work with the National Park Authority and others to protect the rights of walkers and climbers.'