The Forestry Commission has sparked outrage by proposing plans which would ruin camping across Scotland.
The government agency, one of the country’s largest landowners, suggested “a blanket ban on camping within 400 metres of a public road” in documents just released under freedom of information law.
According to countryside campaigners, such a widespread ban would undermine the “right to roam” law, turn the clock back more than a hundred years, and criminalise people enjoying the countryside.
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The comment was made during a meeting with Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority to discuss the park’s controversial proposal to ban camping without permission on long stretches of loch shores, currently being considered by ministers.
A minute of the meeting quotes Forestry Commission Scotland as being “keen to secure solutions which covered all situations”. The commission complained that "the current understanding of the meaning of wild camping was poor and that car boot camping and motorhome issues were growing across all of Scotland.”
The commission promised to raise concerns about the need for “wider review of car boot camping and antisocial behaviour and instigation of new measures to deal with it,” the minute said. “A possible suggestion for this could be a blanket ban on camping within 400m of a public road or recognised formal recreation facility car park.”
Cameron McNeish, the well-known outdoor writer and broadcaster, accused the commission of “furtively attempting to erode” Scotland’s access legislation. It clearly indicated “an anti-access mindset that could have serious implications for outdoor enthusiasts and tourism throughout the rest of Scotland,” he warned.
Andrea Partridge, the access officer for the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) was “extremely concerned” at the suggested ban. She pointed out that there was a lack of resources to deal with irresponsible behaviour.
“Introducing further bans and by-laws will not help, and will criminalise those who are acting responsibly and exercising their statutory rights. The MCofS will robustly challenge any suggestion of introducing a blanket ban across Scotland.”
Ramblers Scotland also warned of “significant opposition” to a widespread camping ban. “It is of particular concern to hear allegations that Forestry Commission Scotland is seeking to curtail rights which were established through parliament,” said the group’s director, Jess Dolan.
The veteran outdoor campaigner, Dave Morris, accused the commission of undermining the Scottish Government’s land reform programme. He called on the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to “chop out some dead wood” before the commission does any more damage.
“It is disgraceful that a public body should be engaged in a secretive operation to prevent thousands of citizens enjoying the countryside and threatening us all with criminal prosecution,” Morris said.
“They are trying to wind the clock back to 1865 when the Westminster Parliament made camping in Scotland a criminal offence, until this was repealed in 2003 by the Scottish Parliament.”
But Alan Stevenson, head of recreation and tourism at the commission’s Forest Enterprise Scotland, insisted that the suggested ban was not official policy. “The remark was a throw-away comment,” he said, adding: "This is neither policy nor proposed policy and to suggest otherwise would misrepresent the position of Forest Enterprise Scotland on this issue. Only Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park proposals are under consideration.”
He added: “These involve improved management arrangements for camping in a small area of the park, including parts of the national forest estate, which are suffering from unacceptable visitor impacts due to high levels of use.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Ministers are currently considering the camping management proposals submitted by Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, and will take a decision in due course.”