Sunday, 2 June 2019

Update: Good news - the scheme has been suspended after the outcry. Wild camping by permission of the government?

Wild camp in the Lake District National Park

Update June 6.

The outpouring of opposition to the UKwildcamp.org scheme has led to the organisers suspending it. A rapid triumph! They say 'we are going to suspend our service and have a re-think about how we might revise it. We won’t describe any future version of our service as “wild camping” because for many of you that specifically means free and unplanned camping'. The last comment suggests they still don't grasp what wild camping actually is. The whole statement can be read on UKwildcamp.org. It's now the only thing left on the website other than the Countryside Code.

The organisers also say 'we also thought that running a booking scheme for entry-level wild campers, one that would provide them with the security and legitimacy that currently causes them concerns about camping wild, would be understood and welcome by the wider group.'  Firstly there was no mention of 'entry-level wild campers' until now and secondly maybe they should have consulted with 'the wider group' beforehand rather than assuming the scheme would be understood and welcomed.

So the scheme looks like coming back in some form or other, but not called wild camping and hopefully after consultation with actual wild campers and outdoor organisations. 

For more comment and information there are excellent pieces on MyOutdoors, whose investigative work on this is excellent, and by Alex Roddie on tgomagazine.co.uk.

And for beginners interested in wild camping there are plenty of resources already available, including on this website (search for 'wild camping'). Here are some links.

British Mountaineering Council

The Backpackers Club

Lake District National Park

Mountaineering Scotland


 
Camping on the Cairngorm Plateau



Late May saw the launch of a new government supported wild camping organisation that’s attracted the highest volume of negative comments, ridicule and downright anger from outdoors people on social media that I’ve ever seen. That’s because UKwildcamp.org isn’t really a wild camping organisation at all. Not when it offers exclusive rights to camp in specified spots for a fee (quite a high fee, £20+). Once you pay to camp on a site it’s not wild camping. And when you look at the sites on offer it’s obvious they’re just basic or primitive camp sites. And not always that basic – one offers a toilet, showers, firewood to buy, and ‘a fantastic bar in a yurt for evening entertainment’.  The lead picture for the website shows a camp high in the hills. The four sites so far available are all valley ones close to roads and facilities. 

Calling this wild camping is a nonsense. UKwildcamp is deceptive in other ways too. For a start it should be England/Waleswildcamp as its basic premise, that wild camping is illegal, doesn’t apply in Scotland. UKwildcamp also act as though no-one wild camps in England and Wales and so what it’s doing is needed. This is, of course, rubbish, as the hundreds of people wild camping every week could tell them. But they don’t appear to have asked any real wild campers.  UKwildcamp says the launch at the House of Commons was ‘in the presence of MPS, wild camping enthusiasts and friends’. Who were these ‘wild camping enthusiasts’? No-one I know knew anything about the scheme until it went public. As far as I’m aware no approach was made to the British Mountaineering Council or the Ramblers, the two representative bodies who could have given advice. 

Winter wild camp in the Lake District

While acting as though it’s doing a favour by making wild camping possible UKwildcamp could do the opposite. Landowners are asked to suggest sites and take part of the fee. I suspect many will be only too glad to do so – it costs them nothing – and be happy to create a belief that you can only wild camp in certain spots and after paying a fee. Genuine wild campers might be put off – though I can’t see anything really being done to stop us as that would require wardens and patrols. But the possible precedent is worrying. 

The website says ‘wild camping is camping on the move. It’s the process of carrying what you need to endure a night out in the wild, and no more’. I agree with the first sentence. The second is incoherent  - ‘wild camping’ is a ‘process of carrying’? And suggesting wild camping is something to endure isn’t likely to attract many people. I  don’t ‘endure’ wild camping. I love it and enjoy every night out. Again the whole approach is nonsense and suggests those behind the scheme have no understanding of wild camping. Camping on the move is about freedom, about stopping when you want, camping where you like. Once you have fixed sites it’s not wild camping.

Wild camp in the Snowdonia National Park
 
UKwildcamp has pages and pages of terms and conditions, enough I’d have thought to put anybody off getting involved. Skimming through these I spotted this: ‘You should be aware that camping sites may be on land accessible by the general public. We cannot guarantee that members of the general public will not enter and cause damage to property and/or engage in criminal activity.’ Dear me! How about members of the general public may come and camp in the same area without paying a fee?

Wild camping is one of my passions and I’m all in favour of encouraging it, as I have through my writing for over forty years. But schemes like this are not the way to do it and are unnecessary as well as potentially damaging to real wild camping. Taking the freedom away, the joy of choosing where you go, where you camp, without any rules or regulations destroys the whole idea. 

I’ve spent hundreds of nights wild camping in England and Wales, including on a walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats, and have never had problems. It’s not a hard thing to do. Oddly, UKwildcamp has partnered with the Lake District National Park in promoting this scheme. I say oddly because the LDNP knows wild camping already takes place, saying ‘there is a tradition of wild camping in the Lake District’ and in fact has a page of advice on its website. So why support this scheme? Other than to make money – part of the fees go to the park – I have no idea.

Wild camp in the Lake District
 
The initial scheme is a pilot funded by DEFRA that runs until September and which hopes to attract up to 1000 campers to sites in national parks. I hope it fails and quickly disappears.  

UKwildcamp says ‘now it’s time to rewild our countryside with humans. People like you.’ You’re a bit late folks. We’re already out there. And have been for decades.

Some links. I first came across this invidious scheme in a good piece in The Guardian by Phoebe Smith. MyOutdoors did some investigative work for this useful report.
ild, and no more. Now it’s time to rewild our countryside with humans. People like you.

8 comments:

  1. I agree entirely, Chris. Perhaps we should all be writing to / lobbying our MPs? I hope TGO, Trail, the BMC, Ramblers, LDWA etc will do what they can to publisise and highlight this nonsense. And those of us who live in or visit the Lakes should be writing to the LDNP. The latter body has lost its way these days eg not only this but its recent decision to tarmac the Threlkeld to Keswick old railway walking and cycle path. We do not need more urbanisation or commercialisation of the countryside.

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    1. Thanks. I agree our organisations and magazines should highlight this. Roger Smith is writing about it for the next TGO. Writing to the LDNP is a good idea. The Park Board seems mainly interested in money-making schemes at present. I know government funding has been cut but turning national parks into theme parks and 'adventure' playgrounds is the wrong approach.

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  2. I found the artical about wildcamping pilot in England and Wales exciting till I read thru it, I have been into bushcraft and wildcamping for over 40 yrs and even thou it is illegal under trespass regs I have never had a problem I have even offered money to landowners for permission on occasion but what the artical says is not wildcamping as its a organised campsite, it maybe time to legalise wildcamping and look to Scotland on how the manage it I have even seen a permit to camp which gives permission from landowners, I am not adverse to paying a nominal fee but charging £20 a night is outrageous even nearly wildcamping organisation who have pre existing agreement with landowners only charge £20 a yr with membership to use these areas with guidelines for both camper and landowner

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  3. Wild camping is not about asking permission, paying a fee or having access to toilets and showers. It's about being in the middle of nowhere and dealing with it successfully regardless of the time of year or conditions underfoot. If the government want me to pay for the privilege then they can kiss my shiny metal ass.

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  4. It's well overtime that Wales, England and NI copied and pasted the legislation they have in Scotland. I'll carry on as before.

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  5. I think the status quo is fine as it is in England & Wales, any changes would see people camping well well below 700/800 metres. This hight being the unwritten rule has served us well of the years any changes would likely ruin it for those of us who are responsible wild campers

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  6. We as a species have as much right to sleep beneath the stars, as the osprey has to fish. I'd just ignore any future attempts to charge for my right to freedom, and tell them where to go in no uncertain terms.

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