Leave No Trace. Wherever I go in the outdoors I try to follow that simple code. Often I will return from a trip with other peoples rubbish in my backpack, carrying it out to a bin because others are too lazy or just careless. He outdoors community is a large one and it covers a multitude of interests. Angling, biking, climbing, there’s probably an alphabet’s worth and then some, and not everyone who participates in them will have the same values that I think we would all like see displayed. So the legislation currently which has been agreed upon by the Loch Lomond National Park (LLNP) to put further restrictions on wild camping on the shores of Loch Lomond to clamp down on unacceptable behaviour by some users of the park will have a serious effect on others users who by and large cause little or no trouble. In the main this will affect the through hiker, although it is the weekend camper, the fair weather visitor who seems by all accounts to habitually combine fishing, fire raising and alcohol in various measures. The first is already controlled through the issuing of permits and bailiffs. The second is mentioned on the LLNP website, where it requests that open fires are kept small and under control, and asks that trees aren’t cut down. There’s a fair bit of wriggle room there, but these are guidelines, not legislation. It should be specified that fires should not be perhaps greater than 60cm in diameter and that only deadfall can be burned. Not rubbish, bottles, sleeping bags, plastics or the like, but dead, fallen wood only. That’s a reasonable rule which if breached should lead to an on the spot fine, and a byelaw in this respect would not be unreasonable. Likewise the consumption of alcohol in public, which is already outlawed with byelaws introduced in 2011. In reality then, the LLNP virtually has the powers it already needs, but is failing to implement them.
We should not have to come together to fight the National Parks, in fact National Parks should be at the spearhead of the campaign for better access right across the country. In the Land Reform Act (Scotland) 2003 we have some of the best legislation in Europe when it comes to outdoors access. But if we allow it to be eroded then all the work that brought it to pass is in vain. The Scottish Government and local authorities around Scotland are all culpable in this respect. In Perth and Kinross for example, the Chesthill Estate has amassed a huge number of complaints against it for denying access, and as yet the local authority and the Scottish Government have failed to resolve the situation. Organisations such as Scotways, MCofS and Ramblers have taken up the challenge of protecting these rights, and it is to be expected that the vast majority of cases will be representing the rights of the individual against large private estates or smaller private landowners. It’s probably exceptional when they have to hold to account those who are charged with looking after national assets on behalf of the nation itself.
When LLNP issued it’s consultation I responded, as many others did, that a ban on camping was unnecessary. I felt, as did others, that the consultation was a paper exercise and that LLNP would press ahead with its mission to ban wild camping. What are their intentions? To corral all those who want to spend the night under canvas (or in modern terminology proofed nylon) into sanitised areas where they will pay for the privilege? To squeeze every drop of profit from the through hiker who in many cases is already spending cash in the hotel at Rowardennan, the bar at Inversnaid, the pub at Inverarnan. Is it a way of directing money directly to LLNP, rather than the indirect benefits it enjoys from the local economy. Or is it a genuine but ham-fisted attempt to crack a walnut with a truckload of slegehammers? Only those within the executive of LLNP will know that. In any case they have chosen to override the 51% of respondents who called for no ban on camping, and have approved the plan to instead ban it. It seems to me that LLNP are in part, unfit for purpose, if they are to continue on this course.
The matter now moves on to the Scottish Government for its approval, and it is to the Scottish Government where the fight must now be taken. As solo walkers, as individuals and as small groups our voice cannot be heard and it is likely that the Scottish Government will approve this legislation unless we unite our voices and make a visible and vocal stand on this issue. I have contacted the MCofS and asked if they will be interested in co-ordinating a march on Holyrood to demonstrate against not only the erosion of the access legislation from within (in the case of LLNP), but in the wider context where it is being eroded by failure to ensure that local authorities fulfil their obligations in applying the act. They are already working away (as always) on all these issues as best they can, but there is a limit to what faceless petitions can do. As walkers we often go the extra mile. This time we might have to do just that to protect the access we enjoy.