I'll start off by saying that I'm not trying to shoot down arguments against the petition, I'm just airing my views on the matter.
We all know that wildcamping has been going on in England and Wales for many, many years and that, on the whole, there haven't been too many problems. By and large, landowners have been commendably tolerant (or blissfully unaware) of dedicated walkers overnighting on their wild property, and there haven't been many complaints reported. This suggests that there is a "status quo
" which is not to be upset, and often leads to anti-petition voices proclaiming "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".
Well, I've got a car. It's not broke, so I'm not going to fix it. But it'll still get a regular service, I owe it that much. It's served me well for many years but it needs some TLC, the bits that wear out, like the tyres and brake-pads, still need periodic replacement before they fail in a catastrophic manner. Or maybe I should just ignore the maintenance schedule and let the machine kill me and my family when a tyre blows and the brakes fail while driving back on the motorway after a trip to the Lake District?
Looking again at the wildcamping situation as part of the bigger picture of recreational land usage, I see that it's not
a "status quo
". The amount of land in England and Wales is more or less finite, allowing for the effects of erosion versus deposition. There's a variation in the number of landowners as property is bought and sold, split or amalgamated. But overshadowing these minor variables is the increasing number of people taking to the outdoors
, and particularly to the hills.
This in itself has both positive and negative effects: on the plus side, getting out there and doing stuff is good for body and soul, fresh air and regular exercise in a thrilling environment are to be encouraged. One of the knock-on effects is often an increased cash-flow into a local, often rural, economy, which is an obvious plus if you're a local resident and your living is based on a tourist-dependent economy. More visitors = more cash. Simple. On the minus side, the increased pressure on the land can put some areas at risk due to the damage caused by the number of boots/vehicles/whatever. More visitors = more pressure. Simple. I see another downside - more people taking to the wilds and taking up semi-permanent residence there, but unaware of the code of practice that is required to preserve the land for others. I've seen large encampments in wild spaces: groups of tents and teepees set up around a scorched open hearth, open latrine trenches dug behind bushes (often the few bushes that remain after the search for easily-available firewood has proved fruitless) and lip-service being paid to any care for the environment. If this is getting back to nature, it's not for me. I'm not "anti", I'm just of a different opinion. The thing is, these groups are becoming more common, and so there is potential for a corresponding rise in the number of conflicts that can result.
Now, the way I see it is this. If we don't identify ourselves as being different to other groups such as new-age travellers, weekend revellers, ravers and the like, we'll always be pigeonholed with them (I've nothing against these other groups, btw, it's just that I see distinctions based on objectives). This is all the more likely while our activity has no basis in law and while there is no regulatory body which could offer support. If offsite-camping is banned (and I mean banned in law or bye-law) because of the inappropriate actions of one of these other proliferating groups, we'll all be tarred with the same brush so we'll all sink together, which would be unfair, and I can imagine that the outcry from bona fide
wildcampers would be much louder than the current outcry against the petition.
I like the idea of being part of defined groups, rather than being pigeonholed inappropriately. I don't like over-regulation and card-carrying any more than anybody else does, but if it's looked on as a privilege rather than an Orwellian jackboot, it's more appealing. Yes, I would carry a card if it meant that I could carry on enjoying my wildcamping while other groups are prevented from doing so because they have overstepped the mark. There have been questions about how a card scheme would be administered, and to be honest I don't really know, but I do know that it's not rocket-science. Cards are everywhere... gym cards, credit cards, debit cards, Camping and Caravanning Club cards, supermarket points cards, driving licences etc. etc.. OK, so it might not be a free system, some payment may well be involved, but a proportion of any registration fee could be donated to a suitable organisation, such as Mountain Rescue, Air Ambulance, CPRE, there are many options here.
What's the problem? Me. I'm the problem. Because I have an opinion which differs.