Dr Aileen McLeod, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform
Dear Dr McLeod,
I am writing to you to express my disappointment, if not utter disgust at your decision to allow the board of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park to introduce further restrictions on camping which are completely odds with the Land Reform Act 2003, which applies unfettered to the rest of Scotland.
My introduction to camping came in the late 1970’s, early 1980’s. As part of an angling club I visited lochs across Scotland, Loch Earn, soon to be a “Restricted Zone” under the legislation you have approved, was a regular destination. We camped out using homemade shelters, this being long before the availability of the wide range of cheap and plentiful outdoors gear which exists today. Tents then, for those who had them, were expensive and were to be looked after; aired after use, repaired when torn, they were indeed prized possessions. Today tents of reasonable quality can be picked up for twenty pounds or less. Cheap and cheerful, their very cheapness means they can be afforded by most, and should they become damaged they are more likely to be replaced rather than repaired. Many other items to accompany the tent can be viewed in a similar manner. The budget stove, sleeping bag and airbed all go to making camping affordable for all.
This is not without its problems. Many of these products are marketed almost as disposable items, to be thrown away after use. By and large these items are not bought by the serious camper, the long-distance hiker, the Munro bagger. They are bought by the relatively inexperienced, by families and festival goers, by weekend campers; people who have little knowledge of the ethos of “Leave No Trace”. Indeed, if your only experience of spending time in a tent is at T-in the Park, you may not see the error in leaving beer bottles, rubbish and indeed your tent lying in your wake. After all, someone clears them up, don’t they?
Teaching people to value the outdoors, to respect both the environment and others who live and work there are key to changing how people behave. Over the years we have changed perceived norms for better and safer practices. To reduce deaths in car accidents we introduced seatbelts. To make roads safer alcohol limits were introduced for drivers. To cut road accidents a ban on mobile phone use while driving was brought in and they have all gone some way to achieving their aims. Having said that people still drive without wearing a seatbelt, there are still people being caught drink driving, and you only have to stand by a busy road to see people driving while on their mobile phones. Not everyone does these things, but we must acknowledge that there are people who will ignore laws, so long as they think they will get away with it. This is where enforcement comes in.
Let’s be honest, what we are talking about is anti-social behaviour in a rural setting scattered over pockets across a wide area. I welcome the proposed creation of camping areas and their supporting facilities, but by creating these spaces you also limit capacity; and what then for the through hiker? When the law abiding majority will be corralled into “Pay To Stay” sanitised areas the problem visitors will remain just that; problem visitors, and as far as I can see the plans put forward by the National Park board, and approved by the Scottish Government fail to address the problem of enforcement. Policing in the area is completely inadequate to deal with the problems faced over such a wide area, and by and large the problem will remain. Some will argue that with law abiding safely tucked up in designated sites that it will then be easier to identify and deal with those breaking the law: but there are many people who will still breach these new laws through ignorance, even though they are behaving entirely responsibly and what would be legally in any other part of Scotland. They will be the easy targets, hit with fixed penalty fines which will be meekly accepted. And all the while the real targets of the legislation will, by and large, go unrestricted. Park Rangers, from some reports, appear unwilling to approach and deal with large groups of aggressive drunks. In any case they lack real powers to deal with them and are reliant on police being summoned from some way off. The National Park (and indeed the Highlands) needs more police officers with the resources to deal with the fire starters, the wild party animals, the “anti-social campers” to ensure that they are quickly rounded on and sent homewards. Simply moving them on to other areas is not an acceptable outcome, as visitors to Glen Etive will testify.
The National Park board should have the preservation, promotion, and importantly the improvement of access rights as part of its core values, along with conservation and outdoor education. Problems occur when the park board forget this, and forget that they have been given custody of a national asset. The clue is in the name!
As a final point I think it is important to recognise that it is not too late to ask you to reconsider your decision. This will not be easy, with opposition parties ready to pounce on any sign of what they could spin as weak or indecisive behaviour. But I would hope that you would acknowledge that this is a bad piece of legislation, and ask that you review your decision before the March 2017 implementation date. If not then I believe it we have the duty to continue to fight against this, by action in the spirit of that shown by Jock Winter in the Cairngorms, or by Benny Rothman on Kinder Scout. The idea that a group of responsible campers, abiding by the “Leave No Trace” ethos, who cause no harm, and who care deeply about Scotland’s access legislation and inherent freedoms, would then be dragged through the courts is a farcical one, and would show this government up as utterly hypocritical when it comes to land reform and access.
The ball is in your court.