It’s a SHITE state of affairs to be in, Tommy, and ALL the fresh air in the world won’t make any fucking difference. – Mark Renton
Scotland’s divorce from nature is intimately connected to its divorce from land. But whilst we struggle to overcome the engrained iniquity of land ownership we can do something about access to land. From the country that gave the world John Muir the shambles of the national park is pretty depressing (“Carry On Camping Loch Lomond camping ban turns into a shambles”. )
The camper van issue is the latest in a series of blunders as Rob Edwards reports:
“Loch Lomond national park has been accused of “absolute incompetence” after it admitted wrongly charging campervans for staying overnight in lay-bys. A blunder by the park authority has forced motorhome drivers to buy permits for spending the night at roadside sites since a new camping ban was introduced five months ago. The park says it has made refunds to those affected. The debacle has been seized on by outdoor campaigners, who say the park’s attempts to restrict camping are doomed to fail. They are calling on ministers to investigate and for “heads to roll”. Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority launched a controversial new scheme banning camping without permits in March. Its aim was to curb anti-social camping, but activists argued it would penalise the majority of responsible campers.”
A series of problems, bad administration, lack of imagination and a warped worldview have led to the current situation whereby, as the writer Cameron McNeish has said: “Many folk have told me they simply now avoid the national park as they feel unwelcome.”
The alternatives from banning people and preventing them camping are obvious. They range from the practical to the more philosophical. Here’s five:
1. Creating a culture where people appreciate the outdoors and their natural environment, and nurturing this appreciation through outdoors education from an early age
2. Creating an expectancy that this is your land, not somebody else’s
3. Being creative and dynamic about littering – a nationwide deposit and return system is the most glaringly obvious opportunity
4. Welcoming and encouraging people to use the land: to walk, to hike, to climb, to camp – creating multiple camping spaces and areas in land that has little economic value (our vast swathes of mono crop Forestry Commission have plenty)
5. Nurturing the idea that access to the outdoors doesn’t always need to be an ‘activity’. There’s a danger that the highlands gets commodified by the ‘outdoors activity’ industry. Sometimes just ‘being’ and not being a consumer is enough.
This is essentially an exercise in re-occupying rural Scotland, not just making it easier for people to connect with nature but making it easier for people to feel, that this is actually their country. You shouldn’t have to ask permission to sleep in a tent.
“In this state of total consumerism-which is to say a state of helpless dependence on things and services and ideas and motives that we have forgotten how to provide ourselves-all meaningful contact between ourselves and the earth is broken. We do not understand the earth in terms either of what it offers us or of what it requires of us, and I think it is the rule that people inevitably destroy what they do not understand.” Wendell Berry
The irony of people projecting to the world an image of itself as a picture postcard, then deliberately excluding people from enjoying it, is a perfect metaphor for the political and psychological state we’re in. To many people this is a marginal issue about littering but its the tip of a much deeper issue about power, class, urban and rural Scotland and the Administration of Outdoors, which tends towards an officious exclusive culture, and which sees people as a problem.
The former Director of Ramblers Scotland Dave Morris wrote last year:
“The present Scottish Government made a serious mistake in early 2016 by approving the expansion of camping byelaws to curtail informal camping in areas close to loch shores in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. This will seriously undermine the principles embedded within the rights of public access to our land and water that were secured by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. It opens the door to landowners everywhere to press for the removal of any of our access rights through byelaw establishment and replacing those rights by regulation through permit systems. These camping byelaws, which are due to become operational in 2017, need to be abandoned. Instead a ten year programme of education, improved law enforcement and new camp site provision, both formal and informal, needs to be established, linked to an expanded path network. In support of this a change in forestry budget priorities is needed. It is difficult to understand how in 2015 Forestry Commission Scotland, the largest landowner in the Park through its agency, Forest Enterprise, claimed to have no funds available for camp site development in this national park. Nevertheless, in the Cairngorms National Park in 2014, this same organisation had £7.4 million available to purchase a large area of Old Caledonian Pinewood from a private landowner, in a secret deal, when there was no obvious threat to the woodland. In addition to FCS budget alterations in the national parks there is a need for entirely new funding arrangements to support developments such as new paths and camping areas. Such funding could come from infrastructure levies applied to new housing developments or through tourist taxes applied to all accommodation providers in the parks, as found in other European countries. Furthermore, most of the existing litter problems in our parks and elsewhere would disappear if the Scottish Government introduced a nationwide deposit and return system for bottles and other food and drink containers.”
It’s not all bad news. The Thousand Hut project reports:
“As part of a plan to revive hut culture in Scotland, new legislation has come into force on 1st July 2017 to make it easier for people to build a simple hut for recreational use.
The Scottish Government has created a new building type for huts which will reduce the regulatory burden for hut builders, in effect exempting huts from most building regulations, and reducing the need for Building Warrants in key areas of health and safety where regulations still need to be met. Not only will this reduce the burden on hutters, it will also reduce the burden on building standards officers, saving money for local authorities. This change is in response to the recent SG consultation showing widespread support for a relaxing of restrictions on the building of simple woodland huts. In recent years an enthusiasm for hut life has grown in momentum, spearheaded by the charity Reforesting Scotland. Supporters of simple, low impact living have been frustrated by the lack of a planning or regulatory framework to allow construction of a simple recreational hut. In 2014 the Scottish Government brought in a new policy in support of huts for recreational use, with a tight definition of the low impact nature of huts. The latest change is part of the rolling out of that policy and means that a burden of expense and regulation will be lifted from hut owners.”
But if some of this feels marginal, uncoordinated and unconvincing, it’s because it is.
As Dave Morris has written:
“The structure of Scottish Government departments that deal with environmental and outdoor recreational interests has remained fairly static for many years. There is a case for refreshing the present system and dealing with some endemic problems embedded within the present structure. A priority should be the splitting up of Forestry Commission Scotland so that its land ownership and management functions, as carried out by Forest Enterprise, are clearly separated from the regulatory and grant aid functions of the FCS. A better arrangement might be to combine these functions with the parallel regulatory and grant aid functions of Scottish Natural Heritage. Indeed a case can be made for combining all these functions plus SNH’s habitat protection roles with similar functions for the water environment carried out by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. This would create a single body better equipped to deal with the challenges of wildlife and habitat management, including woodland and peatland development, in a world where the impacts of changing climates and needs of outdoor recreation require a much more integrated approach by rural agencies. In parallel to this is the need to strengthen understanding and provision for outdoor recreation so that, at the highest levels of government, there is clear recognition of the role of outdoor recreation in delivering health, environmental and economic benefits. At present the promotion of outdoor recreation falls between too many stools, being a part of SNH and FCS functions, as well as those of sportscotland and visitscotland. Learning from other parts of the world, a better arrangement might be to bring these functions together into, for example, a department or agency for outdoor recreation and sport. This would give outdoor recreation the profile and resource priority that it needs in order to play an enhanced role in the lives of every one of our citizens as well as all visitors to Scotland.”
Some of this makes sense.
But real change requires a mind shift not just legislation.
Renton was right of course, but camping in the rain, surrounded by midges should be a right of passage, not require a permit.