A CONTROVERSIAL plan to ban wild camping following complaints of anti-social behaviour from areas around one of Scotland's most popular beauty spots has been approved.

Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod has given to go-ahead for new bylaws which will establish a camping-free zone around almost all of the west side of Loch Lomond and other parts of the national park.

Park bosses have become increasingly concerned about the amount of rubbish, including abandoned tents, beer cans and human waste that have been strewn around the shores of the loch by overnight campers.

Visitors will be now be ordered to stay in three new ‘camping management zones’ after Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority deemed that roadside campsites and the problems associated with antisocial campers were damaging the environment.

The new rules ban wild camping in areas on the west side of Loch Lomond; north Loch Long; strips around Loch Ard and Loch Venachar; and the road side of Loch Lubnaig, Loch Earn and Loch Voil.

In total, 3.7 per cent of the park will be covered by the new rules, which will operate between March and September and have been delayed until 2017 to allow time to establish 300 camping places in designated areas, along with new facilities.

Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority Convener Linda McKay said: “This is tremendously positive news for all those who, like us, want to protect and enhance some of Scotland’s most precious natural places.

“These carefully considered proposals reflect the views of a wide body of interests and demonstrate the delicate balance that needs to be struck when caring for our National Parks.

"We firmly believe that the combination of improved camping facilities alongside management of camping pressures on our loch shores will encourage people to enjoy everything that’s great about Scotland outdoors, while protecting Loch Lomond & The Trossachs for this generation, and the next.”

Residents and landowners have also backed the ban, insisting that the right balance had been struck.

Richard Graham, Chairman of St Fillans Community Council said: “This is great news, not only for the communities who have had to put up with environmental degradation and antisocial behaviour for years, but also for the visitors who have been put off spending time in these ‘no go’ zones.

“We’ve seen the restorative effect that dealing with the similar issues had on East Loch Lomond and look forward to seeing families, responsible campers and visitors return to areas like ours, which have been blighted by these problems for too long.”

Anne Gray, Policy Officer at Scottish Land & Estates, added: “Landowners, farmers and other land managers, along with Park Authority staff and local residents, have been in the unenviable position of having to deal with the aftermath of weekend and summertime camping problems.

"This includes clearing up discarded tents, litter, human and animal waste on a significant scale.

"We believe this is a pragmatic suite of measures that should lead to a better and more enjoyable experience for those who visit, live and work around Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.”

The plan has been approved in the face of opposition from ramblers and outdoor sports enthusiasts, who say that the proposed bylaws would restrict access and punish those who camp responsibly.

Jess Dolan, Director of Ramblers Scotland said many hikers would be disappointed by the decision,

She said: “This is a sad day for everyone who holds Scottish access rights dear. The national park itself has admitted that most of the anti-social problems arising from some camping activities are caused by a lack of infrastructure and enforcement of existing legislation.

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"Therefore we are disappointed that the Minister has decided to approve byelaws, albeit with a short delay before they come into effect".

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland also expressed dismay at the decision by Dr Aileen MacLeod.

Chief executive David Gibson said: “We believe that an outcome of the byelaws will be that they will criminalise those who would otherwise wish to exercise their rights to wild camp responsibly under the terms of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. As such, this decision goes against the rights to responsible access provided in the Act.

“While we do not consider this to be a positive day for access rights in Scotland, we will continue to work with the National Park Authority and others to protect the rights of walkers and climbers."