A ban on wild camping along a stretch of Scotland’s most popular long-distance trail came a step closer this week.
The board of The Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park Authority approved plans to ban camping along 17km (10½miles) of the West Highland Way except on commercial or approved sites.
The bylaw will affect a 14 sq km area from Drymen to Rowardennan and takes in some of the most popular sites on the eastern side of the loch, including Balmaha, Sallochy Bay and Milarrochy. The authority said it was acting to clamp down on anti-social behaviour and to protect the landscape.
But walkers’ representatives, including Ramblers Scotland, say the ban is excessive and will affect genuine walkers and may be used by other landowners to push back the access provisions of Scotland’s right-to-roam law.
The decision, made by the authority on Wednesday, will now be subject to a further 30 days’ consultation before confirmation by the Scottish Government. According to the park authority, 60 per cent of the 286 responses received during the original 12-week consultation were in favour of the ban.
Once the bylaw is approved, it will be an offence to camp in tents or similar shelters within the restricted zone, which runs along the eastern shore as far as Rowardennan.
Speaking at the board meeting, Grant Moir, the national park’s director of conservation and visitor experience said: “We had a great response from a variety of people and organisations who share our concerns about the visitor management problems in east Loch Lomond. It is great to see so many people interested in the future of the area and the proposals that we are looking to introduce.
“The national park authority has not taken the decision lightly to proceed with the bylaws but over many years east Loch Lomond has suffered from high levels of visitor pressure and issues of anti-social behaviour.
“This means that the easily accessible east shore area now needs these measures to protect the landscape and improve the visitor experience.
“We are working with partner organisations and the local community to deliver a raft of changes in the area and bylaws are just one of these. The national park authority, along with Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage, is investing in a new informal campsite at Sallochy and is also investing in visitor facilities at Balmaha, Rowardennan and Milarrochy Bay.
“By introducing all of these measures we can hopefully make the area a family friendly visitor destination where people can come and take in the stunning views, where the facilities are first class and all of it is enjoyed in a responsible manner. We have a national asset here and it is our responsibility to protect the area for generations to come.”
But, in a statement, Ramblers Scotland said: “Ramblers Scotland objects to this proposal and believes instead that improved lochshore management along with control of alcohol consumption should be the priority.
“The police already have powers which do not appear to be fully used and a blanket ban on camping through bylaws seems to us to be excessive. We feel it is not appropriate to target all campers through bylaws which would also affect any responsible camping taking place in this area, including that by walkers on the West Highland Way.
“We also have major concerns that landowners in other areas where camping is perceived to be a problem would push for bylaws elsewhere, citing the example of Loch Lomond.”
The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 grants the legal right to responsible wild camping in the Scottish countryside.
The national park authority said the 30-day consultation, during which individuals and organisations will be able to make representations to ministers, will take place towards the end of July and, if approved by Scottish ministers, the bylaws will become effective from April 2011.