2007 - 2021

Wild Land

Take a course in good water and air; and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own. Go quietly, alone; no harm will befall you. – John Muir

It’s a SHITE state of affairs to be in, Tommy, and ALL the fresh air in the world won’t make any fucking difference. – Mark Renton

Scotland’s divorce from nature is intimately connected to its divorce from land. But whilst we struggle to overcome the engrained iniquity of land ownership we can do something about access to land. From the country that gave the world John Muir the shambles of the national park is pretty depressing (“Carry On Camping Loch Lomond camping ban turns into a shambles”. )

The camper van issue is the latest in a series of blunders as Rob Edwards reports:

“Loch Lomond national park has been accused of “absolute incompetence” after it admitted wrongly charging campervans for staying overnight in lay-bys. A blunder by the park authority has forced motorhome drivers to buy permits for spending the night at roadside sites since a new camping ban was introduced five months ago. The park says it has made refunds to those affected. The debacle has been seized on by outdoor campaigners, who say the park’s attempts to restrict camping are doomed to fail. They are calling on ministers to investigate and for “heads to roll”. Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority launched a controversial new scheme banning camping without permits in March. Its aim was to curb anti-social camping, but activists argued it would penalise the majority of responsible campers.”

A series of problems, bad administration, lack of imagination and a warped worldview have led to the current situation whereby, as the writer Cameron McNeish has said: “Many folk have told me they simply now avoid the national park as they feel unwelcome.”

The alternatives from banning people and preventing them camping are obvious. They range from the practical to the more philosophical. Here’s five:

1. Creating a culture where people appreciate the outdoors and their natural environment, and nurturing this appreciation through outdoors education from an early age
2. Creating an expectancy that this is your land, not somebody else’s
3. Being creative and dynamic about littering –  a nationwide deposit and return system is the most glaringly obvious opportunity
4. Welcoming and encouraging people to use the land: to walk, to hike, to climb, to camp – creating multiple camping spaces and areas in land that has little economic value (our vast swathes of mono crop Forestry Commission have plenty)
5. Nurturing the idea that access to the outdoors doesn’t always need to be an ‘activity’. There’s a danger that the highlands gets commodified by the ‘outdoors activity’ industry. Sometimes just ‘being’ and not being a consumer is enough.

This is essentially an exercise in re-occupying rural Scotland, not just making it easier for people to connect with nature but making it easier for people to feel, that this is actually their country. You shouldn’t have to ask permission to sleep in a tent.

“In this state of total consumerism-which is to say a state of helpless dependence on things and services and ideas and motives that we have forgotten how to provide ourselves-all meaningful contact between ourselves and the earth is broken. We do not understand the earth in terms either of what it offers us or of what it requires of us, and I think it is the rule that people inevitably destroy what they do not understand.” Wendell Berry

The irony of people projecting to the world an image of itself as a picture postcard, then deliberately excluding people from enjoying it, is a perfect metaphor for the political and psychological state we’re in. To many people this is a marginal issue about littering but its the tip of a much deeper issue about power, class, urban and rural Scotland and the Administration of Outdoors, which tends towards an officious exclusive culture, and which sees people as a problem.

The former Director of Ramblers Scotland Dave Morris wrote last year:

“The present Scottish Government made a serious mistake in early 2016 by approving the expansion of camping byelaws to curtail informal camping in areas close to loch shores in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. This will seriously undermine the principles embedded within the rights of public access to our land and water that were secured by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. It opens the door to landowners everywhere to press for the removal of any of our access rights through byelaw establishment and replacing those rights by regulation through permit systems. These camping byelaws, which are due to become operational in 2017, need to be abandoned. Instead a ten year programme of education, improved law enforcement and new camp site provision, both formal and informal, needs to be established, linked to an expanded path network. In support of this a change in forestry budget priorities is needed. It is difficult to understand how in 2015 Forestry Commission Scotland, the largest landowner in the Park through its agency, Forest Enterprise, claimed to have no funds available for camp site development in this national park. Nevertheless, in the Cairngorms National Park in 2014, this same organisation had £7.4 million available to purchase a large area of Old Caledonian Pinewood from a private landowner, in a secret deal, when there was no obvious threat to the woodland. In addition to FCS budget alterations in the national parks there is a need for entirely new funding arrangements to support developments such as new paths and camping areas. Such funding could come from infrastructure levies applied to new housing developments or through tourist taxes applied to all accommodation providers in the parks, as found in other European countries. Furthermore, most of the existing litter problems in our parks and elsewhere would disappear if the Scottish Government introduced a nationwide deposit and return system for bottles and other food and drink containers.”

It’s not all bad news. The Thousand Hut project reports:

“As part of a plan to revive hut culture in Scotland, new legislation has come into force on 1st July 2017 to make it easier for people to build a simple hut for recreational use.

The Scottish Government has created a new building type[1] for huts which will reduce the regulatory burden for hut builders, in effect exempting huts from most building regulations, and reducing the need for Building Warrants in key areas of health and safety where regulations still need to be met. Not only will this reduce the burden on hutters, it will also reduce the burden on building standards officers, saving money for local authorities. This change is in response to the recent SG consultation showing widespread support for a relaxing of restrictions on the building of simple woodland huts. In recent years an enthusiasm for hut life has grown in momentum, spearheaded by the charity Reforesting Scotland[2]. Supporters of simple, low impact living have been frustrated by the lack of a planning or regulatory framework to allow construction of a simple recreational hut. In 2014 the Scottish Government brought in a new policy[3] in support of huts for recreational use, with a tight definition of the low impact nature of huts[4]. The latest change is part of the rolling out of that policy and means that a burden of expense and regulation will be lifted from hut owners.[5]

But if some of this feels marginal, uncoordinated and unconvincing, it’s because it is.

As Dave Morris has written:

“The structure of Scottish Government departments that deal with environmental and outdoor recreational interests has remained fairly static for many years. There is a case for refreshing the present system and dealing with some endemic problems embedded within the present structure. A priority should be the splitting up of Forestry Commission Scotland so that its land ownership and management functions, as carried out by Forest Enterprise, are clearly separated from the regulatory and grant aid functions of the FCS. A better arrangement might be to combine these functions with the parallel regulatory and grant aid functions of Scottish Natural Heritage. Indeed a case can be made for combining all these functions plus SNH’s habitat protection roles with similar functions for the water environment carried out by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. This would create a single body better equipped to deal with the challenges of wildlife and habitat management, including woodland and peatland development, in a world where the impacts of changing climates and needs of outdoor recreation require a much more integrated approach by rural agencies. In parallel to this is the need to strengthen understanding and provision for outdoor recreation so that, at the highest levels of government, there is clear recognition of the role of outdoor recreation in delivering health, environmental and economic benefits. At present the promotion of outdoor recreation falls between too many stools, being a part of SNH and FCS functions, as well as those of sportscotland and visitscotland. Learning from other parts of the world, a better arrangement might be to bring these functions together into, for example, a department or agency for outdoor recreation and sport. This would give outdoor recreation the profile and resource priority that it needs in order to play an enhanced role in the lives of every one of our citizens as well as all visitors to Scotland.”

Some of this makes sense.

But real change requires a mind shift not just legislation.

Renton was right of course, but camping in the rain, surrounded by midges should be a right of passage, not require a permit.



Comments (24)

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  1. Bert Logan says:


    1. jack elliot says:

      I also agree with this apt article

      whilst enjoying this countryside



  2. Gordon Bickerton says:

    The Park Authority for Loch Lomond and Trossachs have created a perception that they’re in it for themselves. This has to be sorted, as has the disgusting behaviour of some who use the shores of Loch Long.
    I have no confidence in the Authority and I hear this from many others.

  3. bringiton says:

    I have been on campsites in British Columbia which are owned and run by the provincial government.
    The campsites offer a pitch,logs for a fire and dry toilets most of which requires minimal maintenance so keeping running costs down.
    Those people who require power etc can use one of the commercial sites.
    What is the point in having beautiful countryside if it is to be fenced off and restricted to only those who are prepared to pay for it.
    Completely agree that more needs to be spent on e.g. park rangers and education so that campers behave in a responsible manner and that campers should be making decisions about regulations rather than desk bound bureaucrats in Edinburgh.

  4. J Galt says:

    “Banning” has become the policy of choice for our low quality public sphere in Scotland.

    No need to come up with imaginative, educational and clever ways of addressing problems, just throw a piece of paper at it.

    And it’s just as well because most of the people employed by our public bodies are just not up to the task.

  5. Gordon Cuthbertson says:

    I agree with all of the points made here. The major point that I think is missing is that there is no input from or reference to the people who actually live in the countryside.

    1. gun ainm says:

      fair comment, the access code aims to provide rights of access and (and I admit this sounds almost tory) responsibilities*. In circumstances where irresponsible access is an issue we need an effective mechanism to deal with that. I am far from convinced byelaws are the answer but we do need an answer of some sort. I tend to favour the park ranger model – educator, facilitator not polis.

      * responsible access is about leaving a place as you found it, caring for the land and other users. Unfortunately there are plenty of examples where this ‘rule’ is either unrecognised or ignored.

  6. Neil MacGillivray says:

    We must preserve Caledonia stern and wild but not by appying low language.

  7. Nick Kempe says:

    Mike, a great article thanks and you are right this is about power. I have covered this extensively on parkswatchscotland but the camping byelaws were only agreed as a result of the Park Board meeting 13 times in secret, withholding information, misleading local communities (who were told byelaws were the only way to stop encampments which the police have now said could be addressed through other legislation), fiddling the result of their consultation, failing to consider the implications for access rights etc. What’s happened is the byelaws by taking away the right to camp have given back powers to landowners, so they can either refuse to countenance campsites at all (the Park to set up a permit area needs the landowner’s postion) or if any want to try and make money out of campers know this will be much easier as people are banned from so much of the lochshores.

    On the Thousand Huts campaign one might have thought with Carbeth as the example, the National Park would have offered a huge opportunity for the extension of hutting being situated so close to Glasgow and with such a high proportion of the land owned by Forestry Commission Scotland. Yet, there is NOTHING in the new Park plan (consultation has just closed on this) about providing for huts. The Argyll Forest Park was the UK’s first Forest Park, has huge areas of conifer forestry with potential for hutting, but is still being managed as though people and wildlife counted for nothing. The attitudes of the LLTNPA and FCS towards both hutting and camping are part of the mindset you refer to which is they see people as a problem. Its a failed opportunity for people’s well-being, both physical and mental, and to link people back to the land.

    1. Thanks Nick, Yes 1000 times.

      We moan about peoples mental health, about physical illness and about young people and ‘screens’ yet we systematically exclude people from their own outdoors.

      Unlike many intractable social problems this has easy, low cost solutions that have no constraint from our constitutional position.

  8. Alastair McIntosh says:

    It’s about power and social class. Loch Lomond belongs spiritually to the people of Glasgow. Folks without cars (or who travel the green way) can get there by public transport. This camping ban prevents grassroots folks from accessing nature, which in the long term is very bad for the politics of our connection to nature. The Scottish Government should have the ban reversed and focus instead on sensitive measures. There are a few senior people in SNH who understand the importance of starting to name class and power in conservation contexts. I spent the afternoon with one just today. Such voices need strengthening and heeding.

    1. Crubag says:

      It was the Scottish Government who approved the byelaws (Dr Aileen McLeod, then minister for land reform).

      They seem unlikely to reverse them, but they could at least have made them time limited if they were to address a particular problem.

  9. Alan M Johnston says:

    Excellent article. Measured responses and comments. I think the park authority laid down a marker at the start of their reign when they printed a map changing some of the names. I seem to remember a “Buckfast Bay” being one of them. The map very quickly disappeared. The arrogance of those in charge should be cause enough for them to be told to seek other loanings. In a different context Lesley Riddoch suggested that we ask for forgiveness, not for permission and I agree wholeheartedly. Perhaps we should get our elected representatives to take an active interest in the solving of this problem.

  10. Wul says:

    (Admin: Previous poster’s email address was displayed in comments box)

    I spent the day canoeing on Loch Chon ( in the Trossachs National Park) a couple of weeks ago with my teenage daughter. We had a beautiful day out; sunny skies, BBQ on one of the islands, skimming over lily pads, paddling in the crystal water.

    She was desperate to return with her friends, for some wild camping, to share this wonderful place with her peers. I had to inform her that she was banned from camping there. She was furious when she heard about the camping ban, how recent it was and how arbitrarily it had been applied.

    She compared it to the iniquity of “blanket punishments” at school (everyone gets punished for one person’s transgression) and the way they made her feel: powerless, disenfranchised, ignored, judged, belittled and full of anger.

    1. Gordon Bickerton says:

      For some weird reason this seems to be the British way. Laziness or fear of confrontation on the part of the ‘authority’

  11. Wul says:

    This ban is a message to ordinary folks; “this land is not for you, it is for your betters”.

    The people of Glasgow are to be denied one of their most important freedoms and routes to well being because some litter was left by a loch side.

    Sure, some of the mess left behind by some campers is disgusting to witness. But that, in itself, is a symptom of the very lack of connection to, and sense of ownership of, nature & land that this ban reinforces.

    Its a NATIONAL PARK for God’s sake. A park-for-the-nation. Would we ban people from lying in a city centre park in Glasgow because someone once smashed Bucky bottles, spewed up and set fire to a bench?

    A mass camp-out (& tidy up) demonstration on those prohibited areas, on the anniversary or thereabouts of this stupid law seems like a good idea. May is nicest for wild camping in Scotland my experience.

    1. bringiton says:

      While walking in one of BC’s parks,I came across a group of younger people cleaning up and making good paths.
      Turned out they were offenders on community service orders.

  12. Toby says:

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for writing this. I totally agree that we should ask serious questions when people’s rights are being eroded, so more power to your arm.

    However, I can’t really take you seriously (which is a deep shame) when you state that “Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority launched a controversial new scheme banning camping without permits in March” and then in the very next paragraph use Cameron McNeish to bemoan the fact that people are feeling unwelcome.

    Whether, we support the bye-laws or not we all have a duty to tell people exactly how it is* rather than simply polarise the debate to suit a particular headline. Peddling a line that the Park is ‘banning camping’ is from my direct experience putting people and organisations off visiting. This is worrying when we recognise the bigger picture importance of people’s nature connection.

    In the last 6 months I’ve had conversations with a Glasgow based charity supporting young adults into employment, a high school, and a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award group, all who thought they couldn’t wild camp in the National Park. This message doesn’t come from the National Park, but from bye-law dissenters (the very people who are arguing for the Park to be more open and welcoming). It’s something I can’t quite get my head round.

    Our fundamental rights to access our land is so important that it saddens me that this article leaves itself open to such a basic criticism of feeding people’s misconceptions.

    If my comments above seem over-critical then it is simply because I agree with you regarding the importance of the issue, and that I care about an inclusive healthy natural environment.


    * the ban on camping without permits in the national park covers less than 4% of the park, and is in effect from March to September

    1. Thanks for the clarification Toby, good to hear from you.

      If that is the common misconception (and we agree it is), then isn’t it the communications job of the National Park (and other bodies) to fix that.

      The message that comes out – whether that’s unintentional or not – ‘is you’re not really welcome.’

    2. Can you show people where the 4% is? I suspect this is in the most popular place and this is what fuels the impression of a wider ban?

      1. Wul says:

        Mike, It’s only the 4% of the park where people actually want to camp; nice level site, next to a loch, beautiful views and within easy walk of a car parking spot.

        If you want to humph your tent up the side of a hill to camp amongst tree stumps and drainage ditches, in the semi-dark of a spruce plantation you are still most welcome.

  13. Toby says:

    Mike – since we are on-line, I searched ‘Loch Lomond byelaws’ into a handful of web search engines and it seemed easy enough to find information offering a full picture.

    My worry is that people are missing out on experiencing wild places because articles, such as the one above, fuel misconceptions.

    Criticise the park (I’m totally fine with that), but don’t misguide Bella readers as they deserve (and in fairness usually get) better.

    1. Hi Toby – I stand corrected – and thanks for the clarification. If there is a misperception – and there clearly is – is this not the responsibility of a multi-million pound organisations charged with communicating about access to land, rights and roaming rather than one article in one tiny blog?

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