Read two sides of the argument over proposals to widen restrictions on wild camping in the Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park.
Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park is proposing an extension to bylaws that forbid camping in certain areas. A consultation called Your Park calls for more wild camping bans.
A report details the â€œresounding successâ€ of seasonal bylaws already in place in parts of east Loch Lomond that prevent unauthorised camping and alcohol. Itâ€™s claimed that vandalism and reports of anti-social behaviour are down 81 per cent in these regulated areas.
Now the parkâ€™s board wants to widen the bylaws to halt what is described as â€œentrenched problems” at other popular loch shore locations in the wider park, which have been left in “a very poor and deteriorating state”.
Anti-social behaviour includes littering, cutting down live trees and irresponsible fire lighting. Campers who set up caravans and campsites for months on end were also identified as an issue.
The proposed camping management bylaws would be brought in for two new areas, which include many lochs in the Trossachs, much of the west side of Loch Lomond and the north-east tip of Loch Long.
The bylaws, which would apply from 1 March to 31 October each year, would make it an offence to camp outside authorised sites without a permit or to cause damage to the area or wildlife.
The consultation states that the proposed zones amount to less than 5 per cent of the National Park.
The proposed measures also include:
- A projected Â£10m of public/private sector investment in camping facilities over the next five years
- Continued working with the police to enforce existing and the proposed new legislation
- Continuing education on respect for the National Park with a focus on responsible camping.
The formal consultation on the proposed investment and bylaws has started and runs until 12 January.
Inevitably, there are those who agree with the bylaw proposals and those who donâ€™t. I spoke to leading voices on both sides, as well as Gordon Watson, director of operations at the Park.
For the restrictions
Stuart Fraser, a partner of family business, The Oak Tree Inn, Balmaha, and a former community councillor of eight years.
â€œMy family have always lived in the Park and as a youngster I enjoyed the freedom of our countryside home. Itâ€™s worth saying that before the Land Reform Act of 2003 we were not allowed to wild camp. Park rangers back then would deter us from camping.
â€œSo when the Outdoors Access Code was announced as part ofÂ the Act I was delighted. I thought how brilliant it was that we would be to have the freedom to wild camp.Â Sadly, that was short-lived. Within a year we, and people who live and work in the Park, were experiencing a much less attractive side of this new law.
â€œI can even remember going out to camp on the east loch shore side during this time. I came home scared and feeling threatened by other campers, who were noisy, drunk and behaving outrageously.
“My mother, who has a house at Rowardennan, would be regularly shouted at and even had her car spat on by campers who blocked the way en route to her home. She found it upsetting and impossible.
“Our experiences were not unique. If you ask anyone who lived on the east side of the loch they would report the same.Â What we found was that the Outdoors Access Code brought a new type of person to the Park. TheyÂ were a minority, I guess, but this minority acted irresponsibly and loudly and made the life for people living and working in the Park unbearable.
â€œAt one stage it got so bad that we discussed selling up and moving away. This was my whole family who have homes in Balmaha and Rowardennan. It was so bad and so out of control that we feared for our livelihoods and happiness.
â€œBut all that changed again when the bylaw was introduced a few years ago to restrict camping rights on the east side of the loch. It has dramatically turned everything around for us and for all the other residents and businesses.
â€œI do not like that idea of creating new laws and therefore restricting everyone and not just the unruly minority, but I donâ€™t see any other way of going forward.
â€œI know that better education and facilities are required to change how people respect the environment and countryside but until these filter through society I donâ€™t think anything else will work other than a law.Â Thanks to the bylaw there has been a significant drop in offences and anti-social behaviour. It has changed our lives.
â€œWhat it also means is that people who were not keen on visiting our area because of what they had seen and heard previously are now returning. They feel safe to do so. This means that the majority are able to enjoy the attractions on the east side of Loch Lomond again.
â€œWithout the bylaw I just donâ€™t think this would have happened. Other benefits have been the change to the areas where people are allowed to camp.
â€œCamping places such as Sallochy now have rubbish bins and toilets and they are manned in the day. This attracts the right sort of people for camping, in my opinion.Â I would like to see more investment in these types of facilities.
â€œWe now have confidence in our business again and have invested a lot of money and created 15 new jobs by building our business. Without the bylaws we would have moved away and taken our business elsewhere.
â€œI wish we did not have to have laws to stop a minority behaving badly but itâ€™s a reality that this had to happen. I can completely understand why others areas of the Park would welcome similar bylaws, too.â€
AgainstÂ the restrictions
Helen Todd, Campaigns & Policy Manager at Ramblers Scotland.
â€œI have a lot of sympathy with people who have suffered because of the behaviour of a minority of people in the Park but I believe that bylaws should be used as a last resort.
â€œIt seems as thoughÂ the bylaws are being used as the solution rather than looking to try other measures first, such as investment in improved management, new camping provision and better education and campaigns about being more responsible in the outdoors.Â I know that these are pledged alongside the extension of the bylaw but why do we need the bylaw as well?
â€œIn principle, also, the proposed bylaws unnecessarily penalise people who are acting responsibly, and this is a majority group of people. It doesnâ€™t seem right that a minority causes a majority to be penalised and restricted.
â€œIn more extreme circumstances it could be that people who are camping responsibly find themselves caught out by these restrictions and given a criminal record for simply camping in the wrong place even if they are behaving responsibly.
â€œI am also fearful that a clampdown on such a large scale within the Park will lead to displacement elsewhere in Scotland.Â Itâ€™s already been seen that the camping restrictions on the east side of the loch have led to campers moving to other places in the Park and taking their anti-social behaviours with them. If we look at this on a wider scale, there is a good chance that these campers will move outside the Park if they are met with further restrictions.
â€œIn the end this has the potential to erode Scotlandâ€™s Outdoors Access Code. Where does it end? Should we simply bring in new restrictive laws wherever the anti-social campers go?Â The result could easily be a watering down of the much-prized access rights provided within the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.
â€œAnother point to make is that by comparison to the National Park, local authorities are not well resourced to deal with camping issues. The Park has more resources for dealing with unruly campers but doesn’t require a bylaw to do so. Bringing in bylaws sets a precedent for bylaws in other areas.
â€œBut I can see that there is no easy answer. The park is claimed to be within half an hourâ€™s drive of 50 per cent of Scotlandâ€™s population and easily accessed by the people of Glasgow, Scotlandâ€™s largest city, so it is a place that many people can and want to visit.Â And, of course, like so many things in life there is an ignorant minority group who seem intent on spoiling it for the majority.
â€œBut I think that investment should be made in other measures before widening laws. Education is vital. This should start with children in schools and also be rolled out as nationwide campaigns.
â€œPeople need to understand how to wild camp responsibly and what they can do to protect their fabulous outdoors access code rather than destroy it. They need to understand the potential of wide-ranging restrictions.
â€œBetter and more plentiful facilities, such as more proper camping spots that are free or charge a nominal amount, would help, too. These camping spots should have adequate rubbish bins and collections, toilets, showers and someone making sure that proper rules are followed.
“There could be more toilets and rubbish collections in general across the park to encourage wild campers in honeypot spotsÂ to behave more responsibly. There are also suggestions that if people want to abandon their tents and camping kit they can do so at specific places, which can then be cleared, rather than just leaving stuff where it is.
â€œThis works well in many other countries and has been shown to work in Scotland, too. Resources given to this type of progress is surely better than bringing in more and more bylaws?
â€œWe know that there is a huge sense of pride in Scotland, which could be built on to better educate people about wild camping and the benefits to all of a natural landscape that can be roamed freely.â€
The view from the Park board
Gordon Watson, director of operations at the Park, underlines that while more designated camping areas and increased educationÂ are vital for the future sustainability of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, the bylaws will play a vital role in deterring anti-social campers.
He says: “We want more investment and better education and we do want to change the culture of irresponsible camping but without the bylaws and the ability to prosecute, if necessary, nothing will change.Â This has been evidencedÂ at the east side of Loch Lomond. The bylaw has to be in place to create change.
“In reality, we have only once, in three years, required to take action under the law but we have realised that without the deterrent people still continue to abuse the Park. Police action is a last resort and only for persistent offenders.”
Gordon also disputes that displacement will occur. He says: “Since the bylaw was introduced on the east side we have had no evidence of displacement of the anti-social campers.
“What is the case is that there is generally a big growth in people camping in the Park. The wear and tear caused by this is unsustainable. By creating restricted areas and offering more manned and managed campsites, as well as encouraging the right kind of wild camping, we feel that the future of the park will be better safeguarded.
“Things just can’t continue as they are. All we are proposing is that five per cent of the whole Park has restrictions during the summer months. The bylaw will ensure this happens. And in addition we will be investing in better facilities and more education.Â We want as many people as possible to feel welcome in the Park.”