Friday, 31 May 2019 09:29

DEFRA funding bid to make wild campers pay to use national parks

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A new scheme launched this week is targetting wild campers using national parks to see whether landowners are willing to let out tracts of land and whether there is an appetite to book and pay for wild camping spots in National Parks.

The pilot, funded by DEFRA, is set to run until September and aims to attract between 500 and 1000 wild campers each paying upwards of £20 (some sources quote from £30) .Under the scheme camper pays a fee and in return is sent a grid reference to where they have permission to camp. While 50% of the fee goes to the landowner the publicity and the organisation's website are less clear on what happens to the remaining 50% with publicity stating it goes to the National Park while the T&Cs state 25% goes the park authority. If the pilot meets its target of involving between 500 and 1000 wild campers the organisation UK Wild Camp plan to "secure the platform in the long-term."

3 tarns wild campWild camping responsibly at 3 Tarns in the Lake District National Park

Under the existing legislation wild camping is technically illegal in National Parks within England and Wales, with the exception of Dartmoor, without the landowner's permission. This scheme gets around the legislation by the landowners giving their consent, but in reality the Lake District national Park Authority, as an example, have traditionally turned a blind eye to responsible wild camping; THe LDNPA website even carries a page of advise on how and where to wild camp.

Unsurprisingly the new scheme has attracted a lot of negative comments from outdoor and wild camping enthusiasts but is supported by Adam Afriyie, MP for Windsor, who said: “Our national parks are public assets and an opportunity for young people in cities to experience the countryside, hills and nature. If this wild camping pilot succeeds in getting more people to enjoy the wild, and doesn’t aggravate landowners or other countryside users, then we should seriously consider expanding it.” 

Richard Leafe, Chief Executive of the Lake District National Park Authority, said: “While we have a long tradition of tolerance of wild camping in the Lakes, it’s not for everyone. I like this idea because it provides a pathway of camping exploration for people, as they move to a truly wild experience.”

stickle tarn sale

MyOutdoors feeling is that the scheme is flawed, does not represent real wild camping, is divisive, and outdoor enthusiasts and campers should boycot the scheme and/or register their objections with the individual national parks involved, Lake District NP and South Downs NP, and DEFRA. The scheme bears little or no resemblance to true wild camping, goes against the ethos of wild camping in paying for a predetermined camping spot, and is little more than paying for a campsite with no facilities - despite charging more than many camp sites with extensive facilities on-site. The scheme also plans to approach landowners to ask them to join and charge people to wild camp - this sets a very unwelcome precedent as well as opening up a potential legal minefield over duty of care when charging a fee. 

Many see this and other schemes as another example of the government and DEFRA attempting to monetise our national parks in order to reduce central government funding; a process which has seen massive reductions in National Park grants over the last 9 years and has led to the sale of assets from Losehill Hall and the Roaches in the Peak District to stretches of lakeside woodland and mountain tarns in the Lake District.

While many on social media are expressing anger with UK Wild Camp it would seem that the anger would be more appropriately directed at DEFRA, the government, and the national park authorities who are funding and supporting this scheme.