Monday, 28 January 2008

to be legal

Just recently Darren has put in motion a petition to legalise wild camping in England and Wales. (See his blog pages, Weird Darren 1066) Basically, at present anyone camping outside of campsites in hill districts and away from civilization, is in breach of the law. Many who enjoy the freedom of camping high in the hills already have willingly, electronically signed. However, there are a few detractors; a minority who argue that it will not be benifitial. They maintain that it will increase vanalism,abuse etc. Somehow I doubt it.In Scotland I have seen mountain bothies that have suffered vandalism, indeed some have been closed due to this. There are bothies I have visited where the surrounding area is festooned with toilet paper and human excreta is a hazard. A few bothies get used by individuals and groups as fixed bases. All these things contravene the bothy code. Does that mean that ALL bothies ought to be closed because of a minority who abuse? Of course not. The hills see an increasing pressure, litter in popular regions is a problem, as is erosion. Deep, wide scars on the hillside and trails of tissues, sweet wrappers, fag ends, are an eyesore. The Lakes in summer have such an influx of visitors that on some of the tops visitors have to queue to stand on some tops. Will visitors be banned, no, of course not. The powers that be work hard to combat and tackle these problems. Often it comes down to educating people, making them more aware of their responsibilties.
The majority of us who wild camp act sensibly and with respect. personally I have wild camped on hill, moor and coast. Stealth camping on occasion. Pitching late and moving on early. Leaving no trace of my passing. Even on my last trip, on the final evening I camped close to civilization out of sheer necessity; less that a quarter of a mile from houses. However, I knew that no one had recently been on the rough track where I had pitched; no tire tracks or footprints, everything quite overgrown.
The point is that the onus of responsibilty is on everyone who takes a tent on the hill or bivis. There have been places where I have wild camped and found crushed beer cans stuffed in dry stone walls, orange and banana peel carelessly discarded. it is surprising how long it takes for banana skins and peel to bio degrade down. The high percentage of genuine hill goers act with sensitivity and respect. There is an unwritten code, take all rubbish out, if you carry it in, be prepared to carry it out. Dig a scatch hole for when you have to go; if you can, burn toilet paper, or at least, make sure it is well buried; once more, it takes a long time to degrade. Maybe I am speaking to the converted but it is a case of education, passing on our skills and knowledge to others who are starting out. The maxim of 'travel lightly and leave no trace' must be applied.
There is also a chance that this may prove benefitial to landowners, if we are prepared to act in accordance with those who manage and work the land, a mutual respect may over time develop. In Scotland where wild camping is permitted, at times of the year parts of the hill are closed for the stalking season. By complying with the locals and avoiding those areas, I have found that many stalkers and gillies are open and friendly. An added benefit is that these same people have a wealth of local knowledge which can be an advantage. Personally I have known stalkers who suggested ways through the hills that have been unmarked on the map, they know delightful little spots that are ideal for a wild camp. Also their local knowledge can be a major asset in a rescue situation.
For those who wish to appose or detract from this act being brought before parliament I would say, think carefully. The hills are there for all, people have wild camped for many years and will continue to do so illegally or legally. Yes, a small minority will abuse it. The high majority of us who do wild camp, act with great respect, we travel lightly on the land, camp discreetly and leave no trace of our passing and that is as it ought to be for all. Think on.