New legislation could have unintended consequences for wild camping. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

New legislation could have unintended consequences for wild camping. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

The British Mountaineering Council said it is concerned about planned legislation that could criminalise wild camping.

The organisation, which represents more than 85,000 climbers, mountaineers and hillwalkers in England and Wales, said the Westminster government’s proposals to change trespass into a criminal rather than civil matter could have unintended consequences for outdoor enthusiasts.

The BMC was responding to a consultation on extending police powers to force people to move on from unauthorised encampments.

It said clarification was needed on points included in the proposals. Writing on the council’s website, access and conservation officer Cath Flitcroft said: “The intended aim of this consultation and future legislation is clearly to deter long term occupation of land – essentially travellers. The BMC would like further assurances that the legislation should not be too wide as to capture anyone but the intended targets.

“The BMC is concerned that an unintended consequence of the consultation may be to penalise those who are ‘wild camping’ or ‘van camping’ for a short period of time, and may deter those who are genuinely exercising their rights to be outdoors.

“Access to our countryside and green spaces has wide-reaching benefits from a better understanding of the natural environment to increased wellbeing and a prosperous rural economy.”

The organisation said the creation, implementation and enforcement of new powers are likely to be costly, with uncertain outcomes of monitoring and enforcement.

“Government priority should be to make our countryside and green spaces easy and accessible for all,” it said. “Promoting outdoor recreation and access to the outdoors is essential in tackling physical inactivity and the mental health crisis as well as helping to raise awareness of the value of our natural environment.”

The BMC pointed out that, while wild camping is not one of the activities allowed under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in England and Wales, it is permitted in Scotland under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act, as long as participants comply with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

The BMC's access and conservation officer Cath Flitcroft. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

The BMC's access and conservation officer Cath Flitcroft. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Legislation already in force makes it an offence for two or more wild campers to be charged with criminal trespass if they damage property or are violent or abusive when asked to leave by police. “The current proposals do not appear to have the intention to change this nor should they,” it said.

“The BMC believes that wild camping should encompass the freedom to choose where to camp, without any regulations, to be self-sufficient and to do so in a discreet and responsible manner, in wild places away from civilisation.

“Many people wild camp discreetly in our hills and mountains, following a strict ‘leave no trace’ ethic. This appears to function well in practice.”

Details of the proposals and how to respond are on the UK Government website. The deadline for submissions is 4 March.

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