Wild Camping- Legal or not?

After hanging up the office phone with a cheery ‘Thanks anyway!’ to the 8th person of the morning on my hunt for wild camping information; including chats with the Police, the National Parks, the National Trust and Leave No Trace, my only conclusion was ‘The first rule of wild camping is;  don’t talk about wild camping’.  No-one could give me a clear response. (Sorry for the spoiler.)

There were opinions; sometimes, but most people seemed a little sheepish even recognizing that wild camping existed. I started to doubt it existed.

GO Activities- Definatley Not Wild Camping.

To the uninformed, wild camping involves bedding down in the middle of your walk, ramble or climb.  That might, depending on your attitude to life; sound idyllic or the sort of thing you wake up in a sweat about at 3am.

Wild camping is one of those activities that just seems to divide people. Wild Camping is either a feasible right and a good way to spend an evening, camping onland like the moors, undisturbed by other campers, running water or electricity hook up points and paying to pitch, or it’s one of the reasons the very same land is littered, left with fires, erosion and in general disregard.

The fact is, wild campers are notoriously hard to pin down south of Scotland, where it is allowed.

Farmer owned land is obviously private property, and their permission should always be asked, but in the case of the Peak District, a lot of land is actually owned by large conglomerate companies like Yorkshire water and Severn Trent. It’s a bit hard to get access to them, so this land is off limits. Other land is protected as conservation land. The problem with wild camping is you risk stumbling into land that really needs to be left alone.

The fact is if you wild campers, are at a basic level trespassers with tents and if farmers want, they can report  you to the police. Although a night in the cell might be warmer than one on the moors, here’s the low down on wild camping.

Some people turn up at national parks and land to pitch for free. These people aren’t real wild campers according to Simon Wright from the National Trust.

“There are people who misuse the land, leaving things and are just there for a good time. It’s that side we want to get rid of. The true ‘wild campers’ are people who leave no trace, except maybe a hole in the ground. If they are passing through, leaving no sign of themselves, that is more likely to be acceptable. It’s the people who leave traces, damage and litter that keep all over bans enforced.”

Where can I wild camp?

The Land Reform Act in Scotland allows for wild camping but when it comes to England, getting the same consistency is a problem. Some places allow it, but not everywhere. And you need landowner permission. But this isn’t always clear. I spoke to Mike Rhodes of the National Park in the Peaks, who said that the situation varies all around the country.

“I think you can camp in certain heights in mount Snowdon, I think it’s allowed in Dartmoor, and not at all in the peaks, I can see why people are confused. It’s one of those issues that has grey areas. Sorry. ”

Dartmoor! My shining beacon of hope. I rang the National Trust in Dartmoor. Well, via Cornwall and Devon first. I was finally through to Sally Erskine, who I was informed was the relevant ‘camping contact’. She seemed apologetic that she couldn’t offer me advice.

“You can wild camp in some of it.” She explained “How do you  know?” “Well, we don’t have an absolute guide.” It turns out that Sally looks after some of Dartmoor, some other areas. The lapsing in areas in how the trust is divided means there is no hard and fast rules. She did tell me that it wasn’t as simple as I thought. “You could have wild flora issues, various demands on the environment means it can’t just be opened up to wild camp on. The only thing I could recommend would be looking at Leave no Trace. Sorry.”

Ah ha. I’ve spoken to Leave No Trace trainers before.

Where do Leave No Trace stand on wild camping?

The key is- to leave no trace, according to Pete March at Derwent Pursuits.

“Plan ahead and prepare, so you are ready for the night. Learn how to keep food safe and how to  minimize waste. Make sure before you camp that you are careful with what trails you use. When you are bedding down, make sure you make cat holes and wash in the wilderness downstream past drinking water. (This is the same for dishwater and other waste products). I would also say that Leave No Trace would emphasize being careful with your fire.”

If you are keen to read more visit Pete’s site at www.leave-no-trace-training.co.uk

What will happen to me if I wild camp?

Speaking to the Derbyshire police who work near the Peak District we were told that it is a civil wrong not a criminal offence. “The distinction means that it would be something that solicitors and courts would get involved in rectifying the situation which is classed as trespassing. If a landowner wanted the police to come they would be justified in doing so, and this would lead it to being a criminal offence.”

 Why is there such a problem with wild camping?

The bottom line is it is usually banned for the area’s conservation. There’s a fire risk, damage to the moors, effects on local wildlife, litter, it all detracts from the land over time.

 If you do decide to wild camp

  • Clear the area
  • Spit toothpaste into a bag to take with you.
  • Don’t wash with soaps in rivers
  • Don’t use fire pits.
  • Clear up waste and food scraps to avoid damage to the animal population
  • Take a shovel to make a toilet and fill it in before leaving.

Are you brave enough to admit to a pas of ‘wild camping’? Why did you like it? Let us know!

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