Wild camping in the UK

  • Hey Guest, We've had to cancel our 2020 Summer BushMoot PLEASE LOOK HERE for more information.

timboggle

Nomad
Nov 1, 2008
456
3
Hereford, UK
Wild Camping in the UK

The ‘Holy Grail’ of nights spent in the outdoors and possibly the subject that has raised most questions in all my years of working in outdoor education and adventure training.

My earliest memories of camping in the ‘sticks’ without the home comforts would be as a young 7 year old boy scout spending overnighters in the Pennines - summer and winter, hail, snow or shine, as soon as one venture ended we were planning the next and under the mentorship of excellent seasoned leaders and my fellow peers, this young boys desire to constantly run away from home and seek adventure was channelled in the right direction, the wild camping bug was well and truly established in my system from that day on.

What is Wild Camping?

In the UK, the term ‘wild camping’ is commonly used to describe camping in wild country far away from the urban home comforts and the confines of established campsites with showers, flushing toilets, cafes, shops and so on that you find on the tourist sites that cater mainly for families and caravanning enthusiasts enjoying pub grub and a few frothy pints within staggering distance.

During those early trips into the Pennines, we didn’t care what it was called, we just simply called it camping, it’s name wasn’t important, the only thing I was concerned about was the ‘buzz’ it gave - the chance to live out the boys own stories of our time and a freedom from an education system I struggled to embrace.

The first time I came across the term ‘wild camping’ was many years later whilst undertaking my Mountain Leader Training Award, as it is a crucial part of the syllabus and is defined by the following paragraph:

“Wild camping takes place in moor land or mountain terrain remote from roads and habitation. Wild camping has the potential to adversely affect the locality by vegetation trampling and pollution through food and human waste. It therefore needs to be undertaken with sensitivity combining care for the environment with personal enjoyment”

Source – Mountain Leader Training UK

Camping enthusiasts around the world might also use the terms such as "boondocking", "dry camping", "free camping”, "stealth camping" and even "guerilla camping".

Is it legal in the UK?

The most common answer I’ve seen to this question is sadly a flat “No”, topic closed – really, so does that mean elements of the MLT UK syllabus and activities as defined above are illegal? – Of course it’s not, but it certainly creates debate in the same perspective as the debate about the legal implications for outdoor enthusiasts to carry a knife.

How I deal with the question personally is by providing the following answer:

“Wild camping in the UK is legal in certain areas with expressed permission from the landowner, in addition, there are also access rights in local regions, in particular Dartmoor and Scotland that favour the camping enthusiast.”

So what is the law?

Scotland:

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and Scottish Outdoor Access Code came into force on 9th February 2005. The Act establishes a statutory right to camp and the Code describes the responsibilities and best practice guidance that should be followed when exercising your right to camp wild.

A section in the Trespass (Scotland) Act 1865, which contained an offence of camping on land without the consent of the owner or occupier, has been repealed via Schedule 2 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. The 2003 Act confirms that camping is a lawful activity when done by a person in the exercise of the access rights created by the Land Reform Act.

The Scottish Outdoor Access Code contains guidance on the responsibilities that accompany the access rights in the Act. The Code provides specific advice on wild camping and recommends that in order to avoid causing problems you should not camp in enclosed fields of crops or farm animals.


In England and Wales:

In short, camping on private land without permission is trespassing and on open access land wild camping is prohibited under Schedule 2 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, a recent petition to the Government to address this gave the following response:

“This Government appreciates the potential benefits of wild camping in England and its attractiveness to campers who already have the opportunity to camp in the wild in Scotland.

The Land Reform Act in Scotland allows for wild camping, but the land issues and the legislation in England are somewhat different. The introduction of wild camping in England would be a controversial issue, which would require both significant consultation and legislative change.

On open access land wild camping is prohibited under Schedule 2 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which lists all restricted activities. Therefore, new Regulations would be required to exclude wild camping as a restricted activity. Any change to the current rules on wild camping in National Parks and Ministry of Defence land would require new primary legislation.

The Government has no plans to allocate the necessary resources to consider proposals for such legislation at present, and is concentrating on following up the successful introduction of 750,000 hectares of open access land with new legislation on access to the coast in the Marine Bill Act which is currently going through Parliament.”

Source – Legalise Wild Camping petition in England and Wales

So what do I do now?

Many National Parks in the UK have an extremely proactive view to genuine ethical wild camping, Dartmoor national Park actively encourage it and it would be worth researching their websites and asking their information centres with regards to this, you will also find that some information centres have details of acceptable locations and even contact details for landowners. Ask the information centres if they have a ‘camping on farms’ or ‘camping in wild country’ information sheet or list.

With regards to finding private land to use for camping activities I have also compiled a separate article called ‘Seeking and gaining land access permission' and a link is provided below.

Is there a ‘Wild Camping’ code?

Yes, most outdoor enthusiasts will be familiar with the age old tried and tested countryside code, which is very much the basis for the ‘wild camping’ code and is defined by the Mountaineering Club of Scotland with the following do’s and don’ts.

Consider Others

The larger the group, the harder it is to keep impacts to a minimum. Keep groups small.

Remember that people have to make their living from the land.

Camp as unobtrusively as possible.

Remember that noise travels from tents disturbing wildlife as well as humans

Protect Vegetation

Camping on the same spot harms vegetation. Aim to move frequently and do not stay for any longer than 3 nights in the same place.

Vegetation is more sensitive at higher altitudes. Aim to camp lower down in glens where vegetation recovers more easily.

Dead wood is an important habitat for insects and many small animals, so it is best to avoid fires even for cooking.

Lighting fires poses a high fire risk on peaty soils and close to tinder dry grass. A high risk of fire can exist at any time of year, and not just in times of drought.

Minimise Disturbance to Wildlife

Watercourses and loch sides are important sites for birds and animals. Take extra care when camping near burns and lochs, and try to avoid camping immediately beside them.

Food scraps (even when buried) attract scavenging birds and animals, some of which prey on more vulnerable nesting birds. Carry all scraps of food out with you.

Be prepared to move if you become aware that you are disturbing nesting birds or animals.

Toilet Hygiene

Always find a spot at least 30 metres from fresh/running water when going to the toilet.

Bury excrement in a small hole (not under boulders). A trowel or ice axe can be used to lift a flap of turf. In areas of sensitive upland vegetation, such as the Cairngorms plateau, vegetation takes a long time to recover, so holes should not be dug at all.

Be particularly careful to bury excrement properly when the ground is snow covered.

Burying tampons and sanitary towels doesn't work as animals dig them up. Please carry them out. Placing them in a container with a tea bag helps to absorb odours.

Follow the more specific guidance on Human Sanitation in the MCofS Human Sanitation Code. (See links below)

Leave camp as you found it

Remove all litter (even other peoples!) Think ahead and only carry in what you are prepared to carry out. Do not bury or hide litter under stones as it can harm wildlife and offends those who visit after you.

Choose a dry site to pitch on rather than resorting to digging drainage ditches and removing vegetation and boulders. In replacing boulders, return them to the same place, the same way up.

Are there more information resources available?

Yes, below I have compiled a list of resources that give clear information with regards to wild camping and access within the UK and if any folks have any more resources they would like to add please feel free to contact me and I will add them in.

Thankyou for reading and happy ‘wild’ camping folks

http://www.bushcraftuk.com/forum/showthread.php?t=52652

http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/enjoying/countrysidecode/default.aspx

http://www.mltw.org/english/ml-more.php

http://www.mountaineering-scotland.org.uk/leaflets/wildcamp.html

http://www.mountaineering-scotland.org.uk/leaflets/toilet.html

http://www.snh.org.uk/

http://www.outdooraccess-scotland.com/default.asp

http://www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk/vi-wildcamping

http://www.dartmoor-ranges.co.uk/public_access_1.html

http://www.legalisewildcamping.com/?page_id=2
 
Last edited:

Shewie

Mod
Mod
Dec 15, 2005
24,260
18
45
Yorkshire
Excellently written Ged, should be really useful mate.

Hopefully the Mods will up it to a sticky soon enough.
 

bivouac

Forager
Jan 30, 2010
234
0
Three Counties
Thanks, Ged. Speaking as a newcomer, greenhorn and aspiring bushcrafter this sort of information is invaluable.

If I may add, I found this from the National Trust “Camping: guiding principles & good practice” page:

“There is a presumption against camping on non-recognised sites without permission. This presumption is waived in certain circumstances and areas, eg in the Lake District, in upland areas above 450 metres out of sight of the public highway, to allow the wilderness experience to be enjoyed.”

However, 450 metres is quite a height and there is very little information available concerning low-level wild camping apart from the standard dogma that it is illegal.
 

cwillson

Forager
Jul 14, 2007
132
0
Cotswolds
If found this superb website a couple of years ago. Its full of really useful information about the legality of wild camping, and also some really good details about various walks around the UK.

If I eventually meet the two guys (I assume its two guys, maybe I am wrong!) who have put it together I'll definitely share a nip of whisky with them to say thank you!

http://v-g.me.uk/WildCamp/WildCampLegal.htm

I went to do the Aran Ridge walk in Bala, North Wales last year, but my friend and I were beaten off the mountain by a storm. We're planning again for it in a month or two, and there's a load more that I want t try and do this year too.

:)

Chris
 
K

Kinky-Minx

Guest
Hi,
Thank you all so much for this useful information. I will use it to start my scrapbook of 'Everything Camping'.
I am new to this site (this is my 1st post!) and I am very excited about rekindling my love of camping & being outdoors in the spring/summer. Thanks to these posts I am truly inspired again.
I camped loads as a child and until I was almost 30. I had my daughter at 27 & the years have flown by since then. I have camped a few times in the last 10 years and introduced my daughter to the unique experience & the 'buzz'. I have always said that I 'need' to camp, to get away & breathe again.
Now I have a new partner who, by pure coincidence, loves camping as much as I do, he also loves fishing, which he is teaching me to do. He has 2 young daughters who stay with us alternate weekends. We have been buying equipment over the last few months so that we can take all our girls away. We will only be able to take his girls to proper campsites as I doubt if their mother will be happy if we go wild! (she's too neat & clean!)However, on the weekends we are alone we are going to 'rough it' more.
We can't afford to travel far this year, due to time and finances. If anyone has details of cheap family campsites across the south, we live in the stifling City of Portsmouth, I'd be really grateful if you could let me know. Also, anywhere that my boyfriend & I can go seashore fishing &/or wild camping, with permission, & how to get that permission, if possible. Thank you.
You have really inspired me & brought back all the wonderful feelings I have when I am outdoors. I can't wait 'til the weather's warmer, I really feel the cold, but I wrap up warm and sit close to the fire!
Happy Camping,
Kinky-Minx.
(We're going to do some serious camping this year......it's intense!)
 

bivouac

Forager
Jan 30, 2010
234
0
Three Counties
Hello Kinky-Minx (I like that handle).

I am also new to the site, but so far I have found everyone welcoming & helpful.

I can recommend a book called "Cool Camping" published by Punk Publishing Ltd which has details of a lot of camping sites along the south coast, none of which I have tried but most of which do indeed sound cool. You may also find

http://www.glynymulfarm.co.uk

interesting as it may give you the opportunity to take the girls along for a wild camping experience whilst telling their mother (quite truthfully) that you are going to an official campsite. It is not too far from Pompey to South Wales! :)
 
K

Kinky-Minx

Guest
Hi Bivouac,
Thanks for the msg. I'm starting to get the hang of the site. I've looked up the book, a definite purchase when I've got some dosh. I also looked thoroughly at the campsite, it looks perfect, thank you. We can start off easily by taking the kids to the main site, then as they get more experienced we can gradually move towards wild camping. I think that my boyfriend & I will probably start off with the '50/50' option, camp in the woods but treat ourselves to using the facilities. I used to do alot of wild camping, before I had a family & before there were strict laws, it's a shame, but kind of understandable. At least there are still some places that offer wild camping, & with the right approach, following the excellent guidelines in this thread, hopefully there will be more people willing to offer their land to sensible, responsible, experienced campers, (inexperienced campers would possibly go with someone with experience to guide & support them.)
As for the name, it's been my nickname for 5 yrs now, it was given to me! I use it on most sites that I sign up to, that way I don't forget my login details! & also, there maybe friends from other sites on the new site who will recognise my name & get in touch! you never know everything your friends are into!
Happy Wild Camping!
K-M XXX
 

jonajuna

Banned
Jul 12, 2008
701
0
s
one thing to bear in mind about cool camping book.... its highlighted many of the really lovely sites to anyone with the ability to walk into WHSmiths :(

now while not wanting to keep the best camps exclusive, those of us that find nice sites through word of mouth know that like minded people will be there

townies turning up with the transit van and gas bbqs and a thousand screaming asbo kids and stereos blasting til the early hours only destroy what has made those campsites cool in the first place.

ive seen at least one of those sites turn from a lovely back to nature experience with a babbling stream and stables to an overcrowded, filthy toilet block, chavedom

its sad but true, take me back 20 years when camping wasnt trendy! lol
 

adderrustler

Member
Aug 27, 2007
45
0
bridgewater
one thing to bear in mind about cool camping book.... its highlighted many of the really lovely sites to anyone with the ability to walk into WHSmiths :(

now while not wanting to keep the best camps exclusive, those of us that find nice sites through word of mouth know that like minded people will be there

townies turning up with the transit van and gas bbqs and a thousand screaming asbo kids and stereos blasting til the early hours only destroy what has made those campsites cool in the first place.

ive seen at least one of those sites turn from a lovely back to nature experience with a babbling stream and stables to an overcrowded, filthy toilet block, chavedom

its sad but true, take me back 20 years when camping wasnt trendy! lol
No point in Being Judgemental Jon All People are entitled to the countryside not just them that think they are the only ones worthy
 

jonajuna

Banned
Jul 12, 2008
701
0
s
No point in Being Judgemental Jon All People are entitled to the countryside not just them that think they are the only ones worthy
oh i agree, just that i prefer to camp places were people enjoy and respect the countryside for what it is and its natural beauty rather than attemtping to recreate notting hill carnival on the edges of exmoor!

not that im adverse to carnival or indeed parties, just not parties in AONB :)

the reason the campsites in cool camping are cool, is becuase of the historical lack of asbo yoof (and not so yoof), sadly the book highlights those previously lovely sites to those that will only serve to destroy that which made them "cool"
 

C_Claycomb

Mod
Mod
Oct 6, 2003
5,831
909
Bedfordshire
No point in Being Judgemental Jon All People are entitled to the countryside not just them that think they are the only ones worthy
Having once spent a night in a small campsite where the asbo kids of a couple families shone lights around and screamed profanities at other campers until well into the night, where said families played LOUD techno-trance-dance noise until 4:00am, then went on to start a drunken brawl, I find myself disagreeing with your view that everyone is, or should be, equally entitled. :rolleyes::D

Excellent post Ged! Cheers!!!:)