OK, the debates about the legalisation of wildcamping in England and Wales are hotting up. A lot of the conversations seem to be centred on either the preliminary wording on the e-petition page, or on what the definition of "rights enshrined in law"-wildcamping might be. I just want to take this opportunity to say a few things about these subjects.
1. The Preliminary Wording.
Well, that's just what it is. Preliminary. It's not the best piece of prose ever penned by a bard of this fair land, it's what Darren was thinking at the time, he's not a politician or a poet but he speaks as he thinks. At least he had the balls to stick his head above the parapet and see who was waiting to prop him up or shoot him down - credit where it's due, I say.
As with every first step, this one might have been a bit wobbly but it was a necessary thing to do before the art of running is learned. I've no doubt that the e-petition wording could be refined to take into account some of the sensible ideas (for and against) being bounced around in cyberspace, but let's not forget that it's an introductory text, not a final draft of a bill to be placed before the lawmakers of the land. It's like a seed, if nurtured it'll grow and eventually come to fruition, at which point it'll be totally different to how it started.
2. Wildcamping - A Definition.
Ah, now we're into personal points of view. I've read a lot of opinions as to what "wildcamping" should/could be, and I reckon everybody has a slightly different take on it. For what it's worth, here's mine:
Who: Individuals or small groups, no more than 4 units per group. Sensible people who respect the environment and act responsibly, leaving no trace and causing no trouble, inconvenience or distraction. People who would appreciate the privilege of being allowed to conduct this activity without concerns about civil or legal action.
What: Small tents, tarps, bivi-bags and the like. If you can't carry it, it's too big so it's not allowed.
When: One hour before sunset to one hour after sunrise, unless conditions or incapacity force an early or extended stay. In mountainous or remote regions, I reckon that stays during daytime might be acceptable where there is a specific objective.
Where: It's probably best to consider where wildcamping should not be done... private gardens, farmed/cultivated (including fallow) land, common land (laws are already in place covering the use of common land), public parks, ecologically-sensitive areas, SSSIs, nature reserves, restricted-access military ground, places where camping would infringe upon the activities of other land-users (for example, not by a riverside where it would prevent angling). You get the gist. I don't reckon that there should be a minimum altitude for wildcamping - not all folk who might choose to wildcamp would class themselves as fell-walkers or mountaineers, some are long-distance lowland or coastal walkers who still need shelter for the night. I reckon that a minimum distance of a mile from all roads and from all permanent habitation would suffice.
Why: As a means to a specific and reasonable end, such as a sleepover as part of a multi-day walk, or as a base-camp for another activity. Definitely not as a place to get rowdy, cause grief and noise, party to excess etc..
How: With what you can carry in, and then carry out again. No open fires without specific permission. No powered vehicles without specific permission.
Rights: For me, this isn't about taking away the rights of the landowner, who, I believe, must still retain the right to have wrong-doers removed from his/her property. The difference would be that being asked to move on "because this is my land and you've no right to be here" would be a thing of the past. A realistic and justifiable reason for removal, backed up by evidence, would have to be given by the landowner or his/her agent. Such a reason would have to be reconciled against the wildcamper's own reason for being there.
Responsibilities: The "respect the privilege" and "leave no trace" policies are two of the things that would set proper wildcampers apart from other off-site campers. As such, I believe that bona fide wildcampers would have a responsibility for helping others to adhere to whatever rules are set in place to regulate the activity. Furthermore, wildcampers should be willing and prepared to aid the emergency and rescue services if necessary, even if it's only to use your camp as a place to look after a casualty until help arrives, or to shelter a lost soul until redemption happens by.
Approval: In many places in Europe, campers have to produce a "camping card" in order to get a site pitch. I reckon a similar system could work for wildcampers here... a card, to be issued by a suitable regulatory authority such as the BMC, the RA, the Environment Agency and/or a similar body, confirming the ID of the bearer and displaying the rules of the game, could be carried at all times, to be shown on demand. It sounds a bit draconian, but it's only like anglers having to carry an EA rod licence.
Insurance: To me, it seems sensible to have cover for liability and accidental damage while on property owned by somebody else. I'm not sure that making it mandatory would be a good thing, though.
There you go. I expect I'll be editing this after further thought, and I'm open to persuasion (unlike some die-hards out there), so be prepared for change in the name of progress.
If you want to view my e-petition archive, click here.