Monday, 27 July 2020

The camping problem, nature and wild land: a perspective


The problems of so-called wild camping that I wrote about a month ago have not eased. The media is still full of stories and pictures of trashed campsites, abandoned gear, and damage to the environment. Whatever you call it (I’ll write another post about that) this type of camping is anti-social, unpleasant and upsetting. Maybe some of the perpetrators are doing it out of ignorance and could be educated. Some undoubtedly don’t care.

What I want to do here though is put all this in the context of conserving and restoring nature and wild land. Yes, this vandalism does do damage, especially when tree branches are hacked off and campfires are burnt into the ground. Clearing up the mess creates chores for rangers who could be doing other work. Trees take time to recover. But fire rings can be erased, and litter collected. The areas with these problems are not large, but they are very visible as they’re usually next to roads and often in popular beauty spots. Overall, the damage caused is limited. Of course, it’s to be condemned and everything possible should be done to reduce it (I don’t think complete prevention is possible) but in the overall picture of what is happening to wild land it’s not one of the big problems.


Let’s take campfires for a start. Mostly these create a small patch of burnt ground and perhaps some damage to nearby trees. Very occasionally one gets out of control and devastates a larger area, which is terrible. Certainly, such campfires should be banned and people heavily discouraged from lighting them. But far greater damage is caused by heather burning on grouse moors, which takes place on vast areas of high ground every year, killing wildlife and creating an ugly monoculture. Animals and birds can be killed by litter that isn’t cleared up, which again is terrible. But thousands are killed deliberately on those same grouse moors, all so a few people can blast small birds out of the sky. The devastated landscape of a driven grouse moor is vastly more damaging than some roadside campers leaving rubbish behind. (See Raptor Persecution UK and Mark Avery’s Inglorious: Conflict in the Uplands).  

Those grouse moors mean roads too, bulldozed across the hills. In recent years there has been an increase in these and an increase in their size. I’m reminded of the late Edward Abbey who said about chucking his beer cans out of the car window “after all, it’s not the beer cans that are ugly; it’s the highway that is ugly.”. Now  I wouldn’t do that myself or condone anyone else doing so but I think the point he’s making is right. Roads into wild areas are ugly, damaging, and bring problems with them. (This is a good essay on Abbey and roads and beer cans). 


Then there’s over-grazing, monoculture spruce plantations, wind farms and hydro plants. The first two lead to biological deserts with little wildlife and poor vegetation. (For overgrazing see this report from Scottish Environment LINK, for plantations see this piece from the Scottish Wildlife Trust). 


When I walked through the Southern Uplands on my Scottish Watershed walk I was dismayed at how little wildlife there was, most of the hills consisting of sheep pasture interspersed with plantations and the occasional wind farm. Wind farms and hydro plants bring roads and further damage, both visually and to the land. Glen Etive is one of the areas that has suffered from inconsiderate roadside campers. However they’ve had minimal effect compared to the damage that will be done by planned hydro developments (see Save Glen Etive).

 
Industrialising wild places is the big threat, not roadside camping.

16 comments:

  1. Spot on Chris. Well said!!

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  2. Should ban burning heather

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  3. With regards to deer management, the Glen Feshie Estate under Anders Povlsen's ownership has shown how quickly forests can regenerate when deer are removed from the land. On my last walk in the glen I was amazed at the growth of so many self-seeding conifers.

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    1. Glen Feshie is certainly a jewel in forest regeneration. The Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve is another good example.

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  4. Could not agree more. As bad as the dirty camping has been, it's not a patch on the grand scale of damage done to the countryside.

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  5. A more thoughtful take than most.
    However, I would qualify your division of folk into 'ignorant and careless'.
    I know of some who have been found a pitch at more formal sites: and been happy to have been helped.
    And the piles of rubbish beside overflowing bins suggest they do know and do care.
    The perfunctory ring of stones around campfires again suggests some rudimentary awareness and concern.
    So what we are in fact seeing is a lack of facilities: lavvies, firepits,bins,parking.A lack of expertise: and educators/rangers to show them how.
    Pointing the finger selfrighteously at 'bad people', may, in Durkheim's words 'bring together upright consciencies', but it wont solve the problem.

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    1. I'm not using 'ignorant and careless' as insults. Far from it. I'm sorry if I gave that impression. These are the people who do care but don't know the right way to behave. They are not 'bad people'. What's needed is education and encouragement. Certainly more facilities are needed. Put those together that you describe and you have a formal campground. More of these would be a good idea.

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  6. Agreed, Chris. We keep looking at actions of the people with less money and education and privilege as the problem, because that's what society trains us to do. But the destruction at an industrial scale is being orchestrated by the people that we praise as entrepreneurs and politicians. We need a new set of values for society, based not on the past but on our current understanding of sustainability and legacy.

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  7. Are wind farms and hydro schemes not the price we have to pay to fuel our 'advanced' civilisation? Energy (including the energy needed to host this website and the communications infrastructure that allows me to access it) needs to come from somewhere. Either it's fossil fuel power plants or renewable energy schemes? I agree that more effort is needed to minimise the impact of these schemes.

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    1. Yes, we do need reneable energy. But we also need wild land and biodiversity. There are many places for renewables. There is not much wild land left.

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  8. I believe the practice of burning heather was introduced on the recommendation of Edward Wilson, naturalist on Scott's Antarctic expedition, he had been commissioned to investigate why grouse were dying off in large numbers and found it was due to a parasite, burning the heather in rotation stops them spreading. But try to find a path across any trackless wilderness eg the N Pennines north of Cross Fell which I walked a couple of years ago, and if there is one you can guarantee it will be down to grouse estate management, complete with grouse butts! Totally agree that more biodiversity would be welcome in such areas though.

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  9. Great article, and as someone from Edinburgh with the recent post lockdown litterfest I look forward to discussions about mentallities and realistic long-term solutions.

    However, I can't help but feel the reader is left slightly hanging at the end. Someone new to the area may even interpret this article as anti renewables (with some great irony!). Could you briefly comment what your solution to wild place industrialisation might be? I'm expecting offshore wind to feature amongst other key phrases but I'd love to know your full opinion.

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    1. I'm opposed to the industrialisation of wild land. I'm not opposed to renewables, which are essential, but they should not be in wild land. Off-shore wind is part of the solution. Wind farms in lowland areas is another. I wrote a piece on this some eight years ago - https://www.christownsendoutdoors.com/2012/10/controversy-2-wild-land-wind-farms.html

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