Lomond National Park Permit Scheme
It isn’t often the beautiful Lomond National Park is mired in controversy but it is certainly the case at the moment. A less than welcome camping permit scheme was introduced this week dividing opinion and seeing many outdoor enthusiasts up in arms.
Permit schemes are ten-a-penny across the UK but, of course, it is the location of this particular initiative which has caused such a reaction.
With Scotland, the only country within the UK with a right-to-roam law, the introduction of camping permits has understandably caused a reaction with outdoor enthusiasts bristling at what they perceive to be the thin end of the wedge.
The legal right to wild camping makes Scotland a natural destination not only for adventurers in the UK but also from Europe and around the world too.
It is the erosion of freedom which many are concerned with, though, naturally enough, there are two sides to every argument.
Let’s take a step back and look at exactly what the permit scheme entails and what people are saying on both sides of the debate.
So, what has actually happened?
On March 1 new bylaws came into effect which bans free camping at the most popular sites within the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. The laws will be enforced each year between March and September.
Within those times campers and motorhome users will need to pay for a permit to camp or use official sites within newly created camping management zones.
The ramblers view
Naturally enough these changes have gone down like a lead balloon with ramblers and campers who see the new charges as eroding the freedom every outdoor enthusiast loves about Scotland.
Brendan Paddy, Director of Ramblers Scotland, 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 for camping in previously-free areas. Campers often won’t get any toilets, drinking water or bins in return – and we fear the hassle, cost and an insufficient number of permits may put people off visiting this wonderful area.”
The park’s view
The Park Authority, of course, has a different perspective. In a press statement Chief Executive Gordon 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.
“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 be educating them on all the aspects of the Park. This will include providing information to make sure all visitors can camp responsibly.”
The neutral’s view
There are two obviously contrasting views in play here. Whereas the Park Authority see’s the new bylaws as essential for protecting the unspoilt nature of Lomond, opponents only see the erosion of the freedoms which hikers and campers have always enjoyed in Scotland.
Those of a more cynical bent may also see the role of the park rangers changing from being educators and custodians of the environment to becoming more of a parking attendant. Might not the whole scheme be seen as an exercise in generating revenue?
From a neutral’s point of view though I think it is important to put the new bylaws into perspective. And, I realise I’m playing with fire here……
The new bylaws only apply for half the year and apply to four new camping management zones within the national park. It is within these zones where permits will be required. Opponents claim the provision of just 300 spots within the zones simply isn’t enough to cope with demand during the summer months.
However, the Park Authority insists it will still cost nothing to camp in over 90% of the park’s 720 square miles.
Of course, the new camping management zones will cover the most popular sites, though with permits priced at £3 per tent or motorhome per night, it is certainly very affordable.
And, if the revenue is going towards preserving the park and its environs, surely we shouldn’t complain too much?
There is also the fact that charging in Lomond is nothing new as there are other privately run sites which levy charges.
Here to stay?
Though the new bylaws may be reviewed after three years it is unlikely there will be a U-turn.
No-one likes change, especially to the freedoms which make Scotland unique within the UK, but the hard-headed realist in me suggests raising some money for the upkeep of the park through camping permits is a necessary evil.
Of course, the real problems will come if the camping management zones are extended……