“Sorry no camping here!” – Why our first National Park has failed its people.

On the 26th January 2016, Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park (LL&TNP) released a statement on their website revealing that the proposal to extend anti-wild-camping byelaws in the park had been granted.

As some of my non-outdoorsy friends asked me why I was getting so highly strung about the issue, the only way I could explain it to them was by comparing it to the recent controversy going on at football games. Could you imagine the outrage and the ensuing carnage if the SFA was to ban football fans from attending games because a minority were bringing flares to games and ripping up seats etc? It just wouldn’t happen.

But I wasn’t the only one that was disappointed in this as my facebook news feed started filling up with like-minded people expressing their dismay at the decision. Some were outraged and called it a backward step in Scotland’s outdoor access. Access of which is some of the best in Europe, possibly the world. Together with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 is, in my opinion one of the most liberating pieces of legislation to have ever been written. You would assume our very first National Park would agree. It seems otherwise.

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An old picture from before the first byelaws were introduced. Just north of Inversnaid.

To compromise with the ban, LL&TNP committed to a 3 part plan. One part being to continue educating people on respect for the National Park, which sounds great – but as far I’m concerned this should be happening anyway! This is part of the Ranger Service job description for Christ’s sake! Another part is the actual introduction of the byelaws, which will come into play March 2017 – September 2017 and continue during these months every year from then on.

Now, the third is most worrying. Taken from the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park website, it reads:

‘The introduction of 300 low-cost camping places through a combination of new and improved camping facilities and camping permits to allow informal lochshore camping at sustainable levels.’

At first glance you would be forgiven for thinking that this is the most positive of the three plans. It seems the Park are actively providing more camping ‘places’, and a whole 300 too! That’s a fair old amount of tents. What a great idea! Wow I feel amazing now…

30… I repeat, 30 of these places are being allocated to Loch Chon, one of the smaller lochs within the National Park which is primarily used for fishing. From here there is no easy access to any of the area’s mountains, it is not well used by walkers, bike campers, kayak or canoe campers and is nowhere near the West Highland Way. It’s probably quite tranquil compared to the shores of Loch Lomond so why the need to introduce the camping places here? If this is the chosen tactic to reduce the problems caused by irresponsible campers, why the hell have they been introduced into an area that is far less used?! If anything these 30 camping places should be allocated in and around well used spots of the Park. Madness.

So that leaves 270 camping places.

‘Places’.

What does this even mean? The first time I read it on the LL&TNP website, I instantly thought it was a weird word to use. Why not talk about the number of campsites? Or the number of pitches that could be accommodated in a certain area?

Because these 270 ‘places’ are actually permits.┬áThis is why the third of these plans is the most worrying, because by pussy-footing around their words and using ‘dog whistle politics’, a permit system to sleep in a tent has been introduced into our country. The sort of system that spits in the face of the brilliant outdoor access already in place. It is absolutely horrible news. What’s to stop other estates, landowners etc proposing the same measures on their land? Will popular pathways and cycle routes succumb to these terrible byelaws? Will we need to apply for a permit to walk the West Highland Way, The Great Glen Way, The John Muir Way, and any other beautiful long distance walking route in this country? This might sound a little extreme at this moment in time but this decision by LL&TNP and the Scottish Government is the first step to restricting access to our country’s outdoors. This is where it becomes, what Cameron McNeish recently described as ‘a slippery slope’. The first established National Park in Scotland has failed its people. And the Scottish Government has also failed its people. The seed has been planted, let’s hope it doesn’t grow…

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Enjoying the shore in 2012.

However it wouldn’t be fair for me to blabber on like this without offering any sort of opinion on what should rather be done. So it’s simple… we have the correct legislation and guidelines in place with the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. The rights of access detailed in these documents are only allowed if done so RESPONSIBLY. This includes removing all litter when you leave; leaving no trace of your campsite, including any camp fires; and not causing any pollution. If a person or group of people are found to be in breach of these guidelines then they forfeit their right of access. This is where the police come in. The existing involvement of Police Scotland in enforcing these laws and guidelines has already been very successful in recent years. Additional help in this area to let them continue lowering the level of irresponsible use of the countryside is what is required, not the terrible, backward, damn near offensive byelaws which have been introduced this week.