#StayWild Tip: Volunteer for a litter pick on your local beach or park, and set a good example to others by picking up litter around your favourite patch.
In Scotland we are blessed with very liberal legislation towards Outdoor Access, especially towards hiking and camping, which permit relatively unfettered access to the majority of the land, provided that the reasonable principles of care, respect and responsibility are followed.
Sadly, not all people who wish to enjoy the outdoors adhere to these basic responsibilities, and instead choose to do so selfishly and without respect for other people who may wish to enjoy the land, or the trees, plants and wildlife who exist upon it.
On a number of walking and cycling adventures, I’ve encountered sights that have left me feeling angry, sad and frustrated. Smoldering tents and the smashed remains of beer bottles. Food waste and human excrement covered in flies. Birch and oak trees savaged by saws for camp-fire fuel.
The site pictured below is an example of one I encountered during a cycle near Loch Fyne. Quite literally the entire camp site had been abandoned, I’m assuming because it was less effort than actually packing things up and clearing the area responsibly. Smashed beer and vodka bottles littered the ground, and nearby tress had been decimated – all branches that could be reached from the ground had been hacked away. Used toilet paper was draped in the bushes. An effort had at least been made to put some waste into black sacks, but many of these had been torn open by weather or wildlife, their contents spilling and blowing into the water. It was an absolute disgrace.
This isn’t the first site like this I have encountered, especially on the western Loch Lomond shores. The same people who come to special places like these to enjoy being in a wild place are simultaneously responsible for abandoning refuse and causing destruction. I can’t understand how anyone who feels drawn to these special, wild places could behave in this way – it seems bizarre to the point of being beyond stupidity, and impossible for me to reconcile.
The outdoors and wild places should be there for everyone, but it is clear that not all people can be relied upon to show care, conservation and compassion towards nature. This presents a difficult situation whereby restrictions or laws must be considered, and inevitable conflicts arise between those who wish to roam and camp freely, and the majority who have a desire to see these precious habitats protected from further savagery.
Sadly we find ourselves in the position of having to safeguard these precious places from a minority of irresponsible, anti-social “campers”. Small areas of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park have seen the introduction of areas where wild camping is no longer permitted, in an attempt to allow these areas to heal and be restored under the protection of byelaws. There has been vociferous opposition to these byelaws with the most strident opponents being – ironically – some of the largest organisations and collectives of outdoor activity. Their arguments are that these byelaws “erode our rights” or are the “thin end of the wedge”. My argument is that, without protection, we are in danger of extending our right to roam beyond responsible and sustainable limitations, and that it is indeed the thin end of a wedge – a destructive wedge that results in peaceful, iconic beauty spots becoming filthy, scarred and an embarrassment for both our National Park and Scotland.
From my perspective it makes sense to protect these areas and guard them for future generations – many young people I have consulted with who live within the Park understand the issues caused by irresponsible campers, especially in the Summer months, and agree with the restrictions. For the most vehemently opposed, there are still huge swathes of land where true “wild camping” can be easily accessed and appreciated; most of the areas identified as posing challenges are roadside areas where so-called “campers” rock up in cars, disgorge their occupants, their folding chairs, cheap tents and beer cases. This is anathema to those who claim to have the best interests of the outdoors at heart.
I don’t call that camping – I call it lazy and irresponsible.