Walking/Hiking Answers: Wild Camping in Scotland - the definitive answer from Scottish Natural Heritage
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I have read a few questions throughout this website about outdoor access rights and responsibilities in Scotland especially about Wild Camping. I am co-ordinating the Scottish Natural Heritage's public awareness campaign for responsible camping in Scotland so thought I would offer you a comprehensive answer to the questions over whether you can camp in Scotland.
Everyone has statutory outdoor access rights established by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which came into effect in February 2005. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code (the Code) provides detailed guidance on the responsibilities of those exercising access rights and of those managing land and water.
Access rights include informal camping or 'Wild Camping' when exercised responsibly. The aim of the legislation is to enable the public to enjoy the outdoors responsibly and experience the open spaces and wild places on their door step.
Camping can be a very rewarding way of doing this and, for many young people, can provide a first introduction to outdoor activity that may shape the rest of their lives. Informal camping does not usually cause problems, but difficulties can arise under some circumstances, often because of the behaviour of the people involved, or because of the cumulative impacts of camping, rather than because of camping per se.
In extreme cases, the behaviour involved may be a criminal offence. The legislation and the Code The Land Reform (Scotland) Act gives broadly inclusive rights with regard to informal recreational camping, qualified by the need for responsible behaviour on which guidance is given by the Code.
The Act includes various provisions which relate to camping.
- Section 1 which indicates that access rights extend to 'remaining on' land for relevant purposes,
- the fact that the Act does not restrict the exercise of access rights overnight, and;
- Schedule 2 which inserts a new clause into the Trespass (Scotland) Act 1865 which repeals the offences in that Act if 'done by a person in the exercise of the access rights created by (the 2003 Act)'.
This removes the offences of occupying or encamping on private land without permission if this takes place in the exercise of access rights.
Access rights for camping, like most other forms of non motorised recreation, extend to most places except certain specified areas.
These are some of the main exceptions:
- curtilage around buildings, and compounds
- reasonable privacy and disturbance zones around houses
- sports and recreation fields while in use
- schools and the land they use
- some places where a charge has previously been made for entry
- building sites, demolition and engineering works
- quarries and surface mineral workings
- sown or growing crops inc. hay / silage fields at late stage of growth
- golf courses, except to cross over them.
Access rights do not apply to camping in areas exempted from access rights above or where acting irresponsibly so an enclosed field would be out with access rights too. Access rights do not apply to camping in enclosed fields as this is irresponsible without permission. Offences of occupying or encamping on private land without permission would apply where a person was camping on enclosed/fenced field.
What the Scottish Outdoor Access Code says includes Responsible behaviour by the public. IE:
Access rights extend to wild camping. This type of camping is lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place. You can camp in this way wherever access rights apply but help to avoid causing problems for local people and land managers by not camping in enclosed fields of crops or farms animals and by keeping well away from buildings, roads or historic structures. Take extra care to avoid disturbing deer stalking or grouse shooting. If you wish to camp close to a house or building, seek the owner's permission.
Leave no trace by:
- taking away all your litter;
- removing all traces of your tent pitch and any open fire (follow the guidance for lighting fires);
- not causing any pollution.
The Code describes responsible behaviour with respect to wild camping, as defined above. Camping has however traditionally taken place in many other places, including relatively accessible road- or lochside sites.
Camping in these places is lawful and may have few adverse effects, and can indeed provide a relatively safe and accessible introduction to this activity for the young or inexperienced. Such locations can be very prominent and may attract frequent use.
Campers therefore need to take extra care to avoid harming the environment or causing problems for local residents. The Scottish National Access Forum has identified a number of key messages for campers which are particularly relevant to these situations:
- Avoid overcrowding by moving on to another location
- Carry a trowel to bury your human waste and urinate well away from open water, rivers and burns
- Use a stove or leave no trace of any camp fire. Never cut down or damage trees
- Take away your rubbish and consider picking up other litter as well
- If in doubt, ask the landowner. Following their advice may help you find a better camping spot.
- Access rights are not an excuse for anti-social or illegal behaviour
These messages have been incorporated into SNH's education programme to encourage responsible camping. This includes press and outdoor advertising, a presence at music festivals, swing tag information for camping equipment in Outdoor Shops for promotion at the point of sale in 2008.
Hope this is of interest and help to your website's visitors.
Eleanor Macgregor, Inverness, Scottish Natural Heritage / Dualchas Nądair
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