Not all campers are as careful as they should be but some of the pandemic restrictions on them have been described as “hypocritical”.

By Bill Heaney

Access rights in Scotland’s Great Outdoors have been challenged as never before with the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority leading the charge with its multiple assaults on the right to camp.

Back in 2011 when the east Loch Lomond camping byelaws were put into place, the then Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Chief Executive Fiona Logan made a number of statements.

Fiona Logan said she did not believe there were any other areas of the park where similar bans would be “appropriate”

She told BBC Scotland that the by-laws were not permanent and could be revoked if the park was confident the problems had been successfully tackled.

“We would like not to have these laws in three years,” she said.

Yet, less than two years later the LLTNP submission to the Land Reform Review Group advocated that the right to camp within a certain distance of a public road should be removed completely from access rights and that sanctions be introduced, in the form of Fixed Penalty Notices, for breaches of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.  This would have completely changed the Land Reform Act.

The LLTNPA proposals were rejected by the Land Reform Review Group which had been charged with reviewing how access legislation was working in their Interim report of May 2013 and the LLTNPA proposals,  along with other access matters, were  referred to the National Access Forum for further consideration:.

The rationale behind Tread Lightly in the Park (see here for full paper), the campaign to make the public more aware of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code by promoting certain messages, is not a bad one.

Campaigner Nick Kempe said the problem was those messages appeared to depart from the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, although he was pleased to see that ‘Keep to the Path’ was not on the list.

Campaigner Nick Kempe, left, and Rory MacLeod, chair of Save Loch Lomond.

He said: “My initial concerns were that the draft advice:

  • asked for dogs to be kept to heal/on a short lead to avoid disturbing ground nesting birds until August, not July as specified in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code;
  • asked people with dogs “to avoid fields with cattle and sheep if you can” when the Scottish Outdoor Access Code asks people with dogs to avoid fields with young animals (which includes foals – left off the CNPA message – as well as calves and lambs);
  • told people not to camp by the road when the revised advice issued by the National Access Forum in February (see here) states that: “Tent-based camping is therefore a legitimate activity wherever access rights apply, including some locations close to roads, subject to responsible behaviour and any restrictions resulting from other legislation”
  • went beyond the Scottish Outdoor Access Code in asking people not to light a fire and was highly hypocritical given that Cairngorm allows landowners to deliberately burn vast areas of land in the National Park each year.

He added: “I therefore wrote to the Cairngorms National Park Authority and, after a couple of email exchanges, received a table setting out proposed revisions to the draft messages accompanied by an explanation of how these related to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (see here).  This was very welcome.

“I was particularly pleased to see that the wording for dogs had been changed to reflect what Scottish Outdoor Access Code says about the sensitive period for nesting birds and when to avoid taking dogs into fields with animals.  Whether these changes were a result of debate at the Local Access Forum meeting or my representations or a mixture of the two, I have no idea.

“The important point is that Cairngorm staff are prepared to engage and reflect and also, crucially, acknowledge that the Scottish Outdoor Access Code should be the central reference point for determining whether messages to visitors are compatible with access rights.

“To their credit, Cairngorm sent me a link to a paper (see here) written in 2010 discussing the question of just when it might be acceptable to “strengthen” the messages contained in Scottish Outdoor Access Code about dogs.

“Cairngorm staff have clearly been thinking about this for a long time and have retained “organisational memory”.  The importance of this cannot be over-stated.  One of the biggest threats to access rights has come from new people coming in and believing they know best, without any understanding of the rationale behind the code.”

Nick said that unfortunately, that appears to have happened with the proposed new message which asks people, wherever they may be in the National Park, not to light camp fires “for nature”.

“This goes well beyond the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and undermines one of the fundamental principles that lie behind it: that unless an activity associated with being on land (e.g berry picking, lighting fires) is unlawful or causes damage, you should be able to do it.

“The Scottish Outdoor Access Code clearly states that you should not light fires in woodland or on peat but Cairngorm now wants to stop people lighting fires in the many places in the National Park where it is possible to do so without causing damage.

“If the justification in trying to restrict access rights in this way is to reduce carbon emissions, it risks setting a very dangerous precedent:  why not then close public roads to visitors to reduce the much greater emissions from cars?

“Added to which is the hypocrisy of telling visitors to do the right thing, when Cairngorm continues to support landowners who burn so much of the National Park each year.  Far better to keep to the agreed Scottish Outdoor Access Code messages about avoiding fires in woodland and on peaty soils and apply those precepts to landowners too.

“Similarly, the Cairngorm messaging goes beyond Scottish Outdoor Access Code in implying that you can only camp responsibly away from roads. I made two points to the CNPA about this.  The first is that many people are either not equipped or not able to carry their tent away from roads and that the CNPA messaging therefore discriminates against people with disabilities.

“Second, that much of the land in the National Park is unsuitable for camping because of the nature of the ground and the vegetation.  That means many of the best places for camping are along rivers at the bottom of glens and straths which also, because of geography, also provide the main transport routes through the National Park.

“As a consequence many of the best camping places are by roads and it is predictable that with staycations, holiday accommodation booked out or unaffordable and insufficient campsites, that many people will roadside camp this summer.  Messages urging people to camp away from roads, while wrong in principle, are even less likely to work this summer than usual.

“The CNPA appears to have partially recognised this with revised messaging for informal campers, “Follow all onsite guidance”.

“It is hard to conceive of where these “sites” might be, unless by the roadside.  How successful  onsite guidance can be in reducing impacts without provision of supporting infrastructure like mobile toilets remains to be seen.”

Nick added: “The attitude of Rangers remains crucial.  Talking to people works better than lecturing them or trying to criminalise people as is happening in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority (see here).”

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