A controversial camping permit scheme comes in to force in a Scottish national park this week.
Anyone wanting to pitch their tent in certain areas of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs park will have to buy a permit or use official sites.
The park authority warned its new bylaws will come into effect on 1 March, covering four lochside camping management zones. Contravening the new rules could land campers with a criminal record.
Opponents of the new scheme said it goes against Scotland’s right-to-roam law, which gives the public the right to wild camp responsibly in the nation’s countryside.
The authority said between March and September people who want to camp or stay overnight in a motorhome or campervan at one of the popular lochshore locations in the park will have to buy a camping permit or book a pitch at a campsite.
It said: “The camping management zones are focused around the national park’s busiest lochshore locations which attract very high numbers of campers year on year. This volume, combined with the antisocial behaviour of a minority of campers over a number of years, has a significantly damaging effect on the environment and a negative impact on other visitors and local communities.”
The authority said it has provided more than 300 camping and motorhome pitches, and the area covered by the bylaws amounts to only four per cent of the national park’s area.
Chief executive Gordon Watson said: “The aim of the bylaws is to protect these precious locations and make sure everyone can enjoy them now and in the future.
“Given the dramatic transformation seen on east Loch Lomond since bylaws were introduced there in 2011, we are confident we will see improvements with more responsible behaviour and less damage to the environment.
“Our focus as always is to encourage and support people to enjoy the national park while at the same time protecting its special environment.
“Our rangers will continue welcoming people and educating them on all the aspects of the park. This will include providing information to make sure all visitors can camp responsibly.
“Our experience on east Loch Lomond is that most people want to do the right thing to help look after such a special place. This is not about looking to catch people out who might be camping in the wrong place, as taking formal action would always be a last resort, but helping them understand where and how they can camp responsibly.
“The first season of the bylaws being in place gives us an opportunity to fine-tune their operation. We will be closely monitoring how the bylaws and camping provision are working. In particular, we are keen to gather feedback from campers and other visitors, as well as local communities, and partner organisations through our stakeholder forum.”
The authority is urging visitors to use privately run campsites throughout the national park or low-cost, informal campsites that have been set up, with bookable pitches, parking, water and toilets at Loch Chon, and Loch Lubnaig in the Trossachs.
Permits to camp elsewhere cost £3 per tent, motorhome or campervan per night and can be booked online up to eight weeks in advance, it said. The new campsite at Loch Chon costs £7 per adult per night. Costs at other privately run campsites vary.
While most laybys are regulated by highway authorities and are not affected by the new camping management bylaws, a number of laybys inside camping management zones are regulated by the national park camping bylaws. The authority said: “These will be clearly marked with signage about the bylaws. Anyone can stop and rest in these laybys during the day but you cannot sleep overnight in your vehicle.
“Where there are places for motorhomes to stay overnight, there will be specific signs making this clear. Permits for staying overnight in these spaces should be booked online in advance.”
The bylaws also cover fire lighting. Park bosses said: “If you have a fire when you are camping it should be small, under control, and you should bring your own firewood. Causing damage such as chopping trees for firewood is also a breach of the bylaws.”
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority said: “In the most extreme cases of those who refuse to comply with the bylaws, a report could be sent to the procurator fiscal who could impose a potential fine of up to £500. Any criminal record would be imposed at the court’s discretion.”
Mr Watson said: “Camping is one of the best ways to get out and enjoy the stunning surroundings we have in the national park and there is every kind of camping experience on offer here.
“The new bylaws do not change that. Whether you’re an experienced camper, coming on your own or with your friends and family, there is still a wide choice of places to camp in the national park. To support this we have opened a new campsite in the Trossachs at Loch Chon and are promoting some excellent locations to ‘wild camp’ with a permit.
“Our focus just now is on making everyone coming to camp in the park fully aware of how the bylaws work and of all the camping options available to them.”
Outside the zones covered by the bylaws, responsible wild camping is allowed in accordance with the Land Reform (Scotland) Act and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
Ramblers Scotland, which represents walkers north of the border, said: “National parks should be aiming to attract large numbers of visitors. This can cause pressure on individual areas, so we support the park’s plan to provide more camping infrastructure, including toilets, and bins. However, their planned provision of about 300 camping spaces doesn’t meet levels of demand from before the bylaws, when up to 800 tents were recorded on busy weekends.
“We believe the park should have tackled any issues with over-use and antisocial behaviour by investing in low-cost campsites and enforcing existing laws.”
Director Brendan Paddy said: “We’re disappointed that the park is going ahead with this plan.
“It undermines Scottish access rights by providing too few tent pitches to cope with demand and by charging to camp in previously free areas. Campers often won’t get any toilets, drinking water or bins in return – and we fear the hassle, cost and insufficient number of permits may put people off visiting this wonderful area.
“I encourage campers to ensure they don’t fall foul of the bylaws by checking out the guidance we’ve published on our website. While we don’t want to see the bylaws renewed in three years’ time, we are advising campers to heed advice from rangers or police, and let us know about their experiences.”
Ramblers Scotland said people could email the organisation or use social media to report their experiences.