ENVIRONMENT: Camping and countryside rangers in National Parks – an alternative model

Picture by Bill Heaney

September 24, 2021

By Nick Kempe of Parkswatch

Regular readers will know that parkswatch has, since its creation, been arguing that the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority’s approach to visitor management is fundamentally flawed:

  •  instead of providing appropriate infrastructure, they blame visitors for the things that go wrong as a consequence (litter, human  waste, cars blocking roads);
  • instead of promoting access rights they have devoted all their efforts to restricting them through the camping byelaws and made it harder for people to get out to enjoy the countryside; and
  • instead of using their ranger service to support and educate visitors to the countryside, they have turned them into a quasi police force whose primary job is focused on enforcing the camping byelaws.

While I believe many people working in organisations involved in outdoor recreation and visitor management share those beliefs, for a long time their voices have been muted (with some honorable exceptions). One of my fears over the last 18 months has been that the visitor backlash associated with the Covid pandemic might be used to undermine access rights and use as an excuse to roll out the LLTNPA’s disastrous approach across Scotland.  In fact the opposite appears to have been happening with a number of organisations responding to current challenges by re-asserting the case for an approach based on supporting access rights, investing in visitor infrastructure and employing people to help the general public do the right thing in visitor hotspots.

In a very welcome move earlier this year NatureScot and the Scottish Countryside Rangers Association (SCRA) issued a policy statement on the importance and importance of Rangers in Scotland called “Connecting people and places” (see here):

“The overall purpose of rangering is to connect people with places. Allpeople with rangering roles should have strong interpersonal skills,be knowledgeable about the natural and cultural heritage and becommitted to increasing enjoyment, understanding and care of theseresources by and for the public.”

The document is full of good things and you won’t find anything in it that supports the way the LLTNPA are currently managing their ranger service, forcing staff to check permit and refer people who don’t comply with their instructions to the Procurator Fiscal.  With the policy endorsed by the then junior Scottish Minister for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Ben MacPherson, it appears that even the Scottish Government has now begun to realise that the LLTNPA’s approach to visitor management is not the way to go.

SCRA has now produced an excellent two minute video about the work of a seasonal countryside ranger in the Cairngorms.(see here).  In my view It provides a good illustration of what a ranger should be about:

  • staff based  in local communities instead of being sent out on patrol from National Park headquarters each day;
  • staff helping to manage local facilities – in this case a field set aside for camping in the settlement at Tarfside – instead of trying to force visitors away;
  • acknowledging that visitors want to enjoy themselves but helping this happens in a way that doesn’t impact adversely on the local community (e.g reminding people who have enjoyed a drink at the camping area  not to get too noisy).

We need a lot more of this approach.

This doesn’t mean to say, however, that we should fund landowners to employ Rangers as has happened in the Cairngorms. While it is public bodies, like the LLTNPA, rather than landowners who provide the main threat to access rights and the ability of the public to enjoy the countryside, landowners can still be an irritant:

Not far up the glen from Tarfside, there are unlawful no camping signs along the river.
Photo September 2020.

I was struck in the video by how the Ranger, who had been brought up and worked on local estates, appeared so caring about visitors and the natural environment.  It shows that the idea of protecting all wildlife in the Cairngorms and offering gamekeepers other jobs, like countryside rangers, is not that fanciful. But the test is whether they can not just challenge visitors but also landowners where this is needed.  For that Rangers need to be independent and to have a professional allegiance to organisations like SCRA

  1. As an example of how things across Scotland used to be, and could -with some education-be again. Through August we had a nice chap turn up, pitch a small tent and remain nearby. He was friendly and no trouble at all. He had once worked in hospitality in this area. His camp up in a hollow on a small rocky hillock near here, was just out of sight of the road. No one locally had any reason for objection. He did no harm. He remained camped there for some weeks as he looked around for a job. Familiar with this area, he knew about and used local shops and public ‘facilities’ in the village, when he needed to. Once he found hospitality work that has provided him with accommodation he moved on. He has left no mess, and caused no trouble. Glad as Covid restrictions ease this remote but tolerant area has provided such a chance for him find his feet again after the shut downs disrupted his previous life ( Instead of chasing him away elsewhere, for no good reason.)

  2. Nick, I’m afraid I can’t share your optimism that Covid isn’t being used to restrict access in Scotland. Apart from things like the sign at Clachan Seil I mentioned in another comment, I am seeing parking restrictions introduced and enforced at various locations, double yellow lines have appeared on stretches of rural roads which was previously unheard of.
    At Todholes in the Carron Valley there is space at the end of a forestry track which has traditionally been used for parking to access the Meikle Bin and surrounding hills and is mentioned as such in various walking guides; this area has now been blocked off with concrete blocks.
    I cannot think of any example of the increased demand on access due to covid restrictions resulting in the provision of improved facilities, more restriction appears to have been the general response.

    a couple of examples- ‘provision of improved facilities’- from my patch. We created a footpath (2020) from the village to connect with our waymarked walks, so folk could get out and about easier. We created a new car parking area – no charge- and picnic site to accomodate the influx.
    Many of my colleagues have been making extra efforts to welcome visitors, whilst protecting the environment, with support from landowners, CNPA, and NatureScot.
    By all means call out the egregious- but useful, too, to give positive examples of what can- should?- be done.

    1. Eric, I’d be glad to. Unfortunately in my wanderings around Scotland this summer I haven’t seen any, only restrictions where none existed before. No doubt there are some like your example above but they must be greatly outnumbered by new restrictions.
      The only thing I can think of is Forest and Land Scotland’s Stay the Night scheme, sadly it is limited in extent. unnecessarily restricted and for some reason ends at the end of October!

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