Wild camping, such as this one in Coire Gabhail, Glen Coe, is permitted under Scots law. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Wild camping, such as this one in Coire Gabhail, Glen Coe, is permitted under Scots law. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Organisers of a controversial scheme to monetise wild camping in two national parks have backtracked after widespread opposition from the outdoors community.

UK Wild Camp said it was suspending its service after it admitted it had ‘kicked over a hornet’s nest’.

The company running the scheme proposed charging campers £20 to ‘book’ a place in the countryside to pitch their tents, with half the fee going to the owner; a quarter to the national park and a quarter to UK Wild Camp.

The project had a high-profile launch at the Houses of Parliament last week, involving the Lake District and South Downs National Park Authorities. Lake District chief executive Richard Leafe figures large on photographs posted on the ukwildcamp.org Twitter page.

But the announcement caused an eruption of anger and concern among many in the outdoors world for whom wild camping – which involves pitching a tent usually on high ground for a short stay, away from valley facilities – is an integral part of their activities.

The South Downs authority said on social media its involvement went as far as identifying potential sites, but that the scheme was a private pilot scheme. It said it had pointed the company in the direction of five locations along the South Downs Way.

UK Wild Camp erroneously stated on its website that wild camping is illegal in the UK. The Land Reform Act (Scotland) 2003 gives the public the legal right to wild camp in accordance with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Wild camping is also legally allowed for up to two nights on access land in Dartmoor apart from 18 listed commons.

Wild camping is also tolerated, though strictly speaking unlawful, on upland parts of the Lake District owned by the National Trust and the national park authority.

Lake District boss Richard Leafe was at the scheme's launch. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Lake District boss Richard Leafe was at the scheme's launch. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Wild camping is also tolerated in many mountain areas of England and Wales. For candidates undertaking the Mountain Leader Award, it is a necessity to have undertaken at least four wild camps before being assessed, and the assessment itself involves a two-night expedition.

On Monday, UK Wild Camp posted an announcement on its website. It said: “We have had more than 3,000 expressions of support from landowners and would-be campers, wanting to try a night in the wild.

“We believe there is a real demand for a service like ours, and we’d still love to launch a scheme that brings more people into the wild, without disrupting those that are there already.

“The £20 fee (per pitch, not per person) was intended to incentivise landowners to participate. Part of what we were trying to establish in the pilot was the correct price, but wherever we ended up, half it would go to the owner of the land, 25 per cent to the national parks and the rest to run the platform.

“Set against that support, and as one of you put it, we seem to have inadvertently kicked over a hornet’s nest among the existing wild camping community.

“We’re wild campers too and thought the idea of campaigning to remove the current restrictions would be welcome. We also thought that running a booking scheme for entry-level wild campers, one that would provide them with the security and legitimacy that currently causes them concerns about camping wild, would be understood and welcome by the wider group.

“We now see this is not the case.”

“With this is mind, we are going to suspend our service and have a re-think about how we might revise it. We won’t describe any future version of our service as ‘wild camping’ because for many of you that specifically means free and unplanned camping. Nor are we likely to stray into a debate around relaxing the laws on wild camping, because we now understand this is a highly charged area.

“We’ll continue to respond to all who are in touch and, as we rethink our plans, we will be back in contact to consult about how this service might evolve in the future.

“It’s also worth reminding readers that this is a private initiative rather than one initiated by [the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] or any of the national parks.

“We approached them, and they were good enough to encourage us in our pilot. Defra also provided a small amount of seed funding. All complaints to us please, rather than them.”

Tompion Platt, Ramblers director of policy and advocacy, said: “We were disappointed not to have heard about this before the launch and have had a chance to shape these proposals and make them work for all walkers but glad to see that UK Wild Camp are are rethinking the proposals.

“Wild camping is one of the many ways that walkers, and others, can enjoy the countryside. When done responsibly, leaving no trace in the countryside, it can be a great and spontaneous way for people to connect to nature.

“Wild camping is not part of the open access right under the Countryside and Right of Way Act 2000 in England and Wales. That means, on access land, you need to ask the landowner’s permission – unlike in Scotland, where responsible informal camping is normally allowed, under the Land Reform Act 2003.

“We are interested in looking at new ways of opening up the countryside but this needs to be for everyone. That means it is important that people are not priced out of access to the countryside by a new charge.”

The British Mountaineering Council said it too had not been informed of the scheme and its access and conservation officer is looking into the matter.

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