Wild Camping – the law, and the pros and cons…

Wild Camping Petition

On 24th January 2008, a petition was launched by Darren Christie to allow wild camping in England, as it has been derestricted in Scotland.  Although the petition has now closed (24th May 2008), we didn’t want this debate to slow-down so were keen to provide some additional coverage.

You can read more about the petition below, but here is some more information and details on the advantages and disadvantages of wild camping. We also have an article containing advice about buying a tent for wild camping.

Wild camping or mild camping?

Wild camping and mild camping have their own benefits.  The differentiation is that mild camping is campsite camping and regarded as the more accessible version of camping for families and leisurely campers.  Wild camping on the other hand, is just that, wild!  Wild camping provides a freedom and flexibility to those that do not require the amenities of a campsite and serves a quite different purpose as a form of getaway.  It is this distinction that is driving people to request the opening up of countryside to campers.

Wild Camping Law

Currently, trespass (that includes wild camping) is a civil wrong, not a criminal offense. Although wild camping is not permitted by law, it is not illegal (a subtle distinction), so you are unlikely to gain a criminal record by pitching your tent on a mountainside.  It can still have severe consequences though.  Rather than trying to provide information that could quickly expire, make sure you look-up the Rights of Way Act 2000 on an updated Government website for more information.

The general point though is that wild camping is not permitted by law and could get you into a load of trouble with the owners of the land and the law!  So obviously we do not advise it but here is where the debate stands…

Pro’s and Con’s of Wild Camping

In order to help you develop an informed opinion on wild camping, here are some advantages and disadvantages of such an activity.

Advantages of Wild Camping (arguments for…)

  • The Guardian suggests there can be as many 20,000 people camping on any one night from May – September, suggesting a real appreciation for such activity.
  • The number of people that would actually wild camp would be minuscule, so environmental impacts are also minuscule, and people are advised to leave no trace.
  • Access to the most wild an scenic spots can only be achieved by wild camping.
  • Wild camping spreads any impact of camping about, rather than intensively camping on what spot, causing localised land pollution and soil erosion, amongst other impacts.
  • Wild camping creates an appreciation of the outdoors, that helps people respect it.

Disadvantages of Wild Camping (arguments against…)

  • Advocators of such activity insist that they will clear away their rubbish and mess but in reality it is unlikely that this could be guaranteed, as evidence suggest that some users are irresponsible with litter and waste as it is.
  • Impact on the environment is less controlled.
  • People’s ignorance or belief that they can camp where ever they like could lead them to camp in locations that are not secure or safe, causing issues and costs for mountain rescue and rescue services.
  • There is not currently a nationally recognised code of responsible behaviour for wild campers of any sort – this would need to be agreed and promoted to all campers.
  • Scotland has more remote areas, removing wild campers from areas that might be intrusive on people’s privacy.

The BBC reported in June 2008:

There’s a bit of a stink going down in the Scottish countryside: the Outdoor Access Code established the right to wild camp in law, but communities around Loch Rannoch and Loch Lomond are thoroughly fed up with the mess left behind by anti-social campers.

So there are very real negative aspects of wild camping that are easily forgotten behind the great benefits, but these are very important considerations.

The wild camping petition stated:

“Currently without the landowners consent it is illegal to wild camp on the moors, mountains, National Parks and MOD land. It is time to give people the same rights as those given North of the Border in Scotland to allow them to wild camp in these places without threat of legal action.”

The Governments response:

This Government appreciates the potential benefits of wild camping in England and its attractiveness to campers who already have the opportunity to camp in the wild in Scotland.

The Land Reform Act in Scotland allows for wild camping, but the land issues and the legislation in England are somewhat different. The introduction of wild camping in England would be a controversial issue, which would require both significant consultation and legislative change.

On open access land wild camping is prohibited under Schedule 2 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which lists all restricted activities. Therefore, new Regulations would be required to exclude wild camping as a restricted activity. Any change to the current rules on wild camping in National Parks and Ministry of Defence land would require new primary legislation.

The Government has no plans to allocate the necessary resources to consider proposals for such legislation at present, and is concentrating on following up the successful introduction of 750,000 hectares of open access land with new legislation on access to the coast in the Marine Bill, which is currently going through Parliament.

(The petition and response were previously on the Government’s number10.gov.uk website which has now been removed.)

The way forward

Even though wild camping legislation has not been created, awareness to people’s interest in this debate has been raised.  So by no means was this effort or petition any sort of failure.

And don’t forget, wild camping is legal (although with certain restrictions) in Scotland, so it certainly shouldn’t be ruled out.  A bus or train ride could you get you there in no time, ready to set-off into the wilderness.

Either way, wild camping consent can still be sought from private landowners and can therefore be enjoyed legally and stress-free in the mean time.

Your thoughts…

The list above is quite a basic list of the pro’s and con’s of wild camping but maybe you have some personal instances that you would like to share…what are your views, and stories?

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5 thoughts on “Wild Camping – the law, and the pros and cons…

  1. I am a farmer in N.Ireland i have been asked on occassion if a person or persons could camp on my land if i allowed this to happen and something happened or went wrong is or could there be a case against me legally

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    1. Hello Eric,
      Firstly I hope that you continue to allow responsible people to camp on your land. I suspect that if you granted temporary rights to persons of 18 years age +  and stated that they were liable for damages, losses, injury etc.. whilst remaining on your land under their own cognisance you would be reasonably well protected. However- If you take money for services you are liable under the contract to provide such services in a safe manner. You could allow people to camp for free but charge them for water and disposal of waste. Get it in writing!

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  2. I have walked the south west coast path the last two years and wild camped in various spots with no bother from anyone but each morning before departing I’veade sure the area was as I had found it apart from a small patch of flattened grass. With me on my walks was also my dog. I always ensure I’m away from buildings and from the path and I try to pitch in undergrowth. Wild camping for me is a way to be able to stay near my route without detouring to campsites inland. But I do use public campsites if they are convenient (enroute)

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  3. A bus or a train ride could get you there in no time? That depends on where you live. As for how much it costs is another issue, don’t you think? The country should be there for everyone to enjoy, and yes, it’s a great pity that drunken arseholes spoil it for the rest of us, but that doesn’t make it right to ban us all. Maybe really heavy fines or even prison sentences should be given to people who damage the countryside.

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