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National park may extend ban on wild camping

A POPULAR tourist hotspot is to examine extending a ban on wild camping after it was hailed as a success in helping to tackle antisocial behaviour.

PROBLEM AREA: West side of Loch Lomond has seen litter problems as the east side has improved, it was claimed. Picture: Brodie Duncan
PROBLEM AREA: West side of Loch Lomond has seen litter problems as the east side has improved, it was claimed. Picture: Brodie Duncan

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, which won approval in 2011 to outlaw camping in unauthorised areas on its eastern banks between Drymen and Rowardennan, said it had seen a large drop in reports of vandalism, violence, littering and fires in the nine-mile stretch since the measures, were brought in.

In a report to the Scottish Government on the operation of the legislation over the past three years the park says the by-law had contributed to a "radically imp-roved visitor experience in the area" while also boosting the local economy.

The wild camping restrictions, which can see offenders fined up to £500 during the six months of the year they are in place, was part of a package of measures that also included an alcohol ban.

The National Park is now set to embark on a review of "visitor management options" for other popular locations, and will bring forward proposals that are likely to include new legislation in other problem areas where education campaigns have failed.

The National Park said last night that it was in "listening mode", however in a policy document, it stated: "These proposals will include regulatory options for visitor management across the National Park area."

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, whose Dumbarton constituency includes the National Park, called on the authority to speed up a clampdown, saying not enough had been done to protect communities on the west of the loch from problems associated with a huge influx of tourists.

However, Ramblers Scotland said it would oppose any proposals to extend a camping ban, and accused National Park chief executive Fiona Logan of reneging on a pledge, made in 2011, to repeal the existing by-laws if they proved a success.

Dave Morris, the charity's director, said the report to the Scottish Government was "fundamentally flawed" and argued more use of the by-laws would set a precedent that could lead to rights being restricted across the country.

He said: "They introduced the camping by-laws at the same time as introducing the alcohol prohibition. Now, the situation is much better but we don't know whether it's due to alcohol, which was obviously a major issue.

"It's a fundamental part of the Land Reform Act, and a fundamental part of our tradition, to be able to camp in areas like Loch Lomond and other areas of Scotland without hindrance."

Data collected by rangers showed an overall decline in the number of tents outside designated campsites, as well as fires and litter, since the introduction of the by-laws. Spikes in the number of reports of rule-breaking last summer were explained by an increased number of visitors due to hot weather.

Just one report has been made to the procurator fiscal as a result of the by-law being breached, with those found to be illegally camping initially asked to move on.

Ms Baillie said Luss especially, on the west of Loch Lomond, had seen problems in recent years and that the by-laws in the east may have increased pressures on other parts of the park. "The pressure in the west in the first place was to a more significant degree than the east," she said. "If by-laws have been shown to work the application needs to happen."

Ms Logan said the by-laws had been introduced with the backing of the local community in an area that was being spoiled by antisocial behaviour.

She added: "Unfortunately other areas of the park also suffer from the negative impacts of overuse and antisocial behaviour, which we currently tackle with ongoing education, ranger and police patrols. However, despite this considerable effort, these problems are not going away.

"We are in listening mode, in the early stages of considering the extent of these park-wide issues and possible solutions for each area. Views are being sought from communities, landowners, visitors, recreation groups, interested parties and national bodies."

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