Can the people of England not be trusted to wild camp responsibly?

After a year behind closed doors, the people of England deserve the freedom of the countryside

Is it time to loosen up the laws on wild camping in England? (Shutterstock)

There are few actions more ungainly than exiting a tent.

Shoogling my way out of a sleeping bag, that some time in the night turned from too cold to too hot, I rise to a crouch, before using my left hand as a crutch of sorts and limping the length of the tent to the synthetic gateway separating me from the wild.

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In one motion I whip the zip from bottom to top with my free right hand and burst forth from my temporary home. Finally, standing on two feet, I complete my journey from ape to man.

Despite my sleepless night and graceless departure, I am pleased. The July sun is threatening to top up my sunburn, and the breeze is only strong enough to scare off resident midges. To my south is a glittering Loch Cluanie, and to my north are the Kintail peaks which I plan to assault after breakfast. The only other camper in earshot is my snoring tentmate.

It’s bliss. In fact, after months of being confined to the four walls of a Glasgow flat, it’s heavenly. I inhale, I exhale, I smile, my mood lifts and feelings of stress evaporate. The existential crises manifested by months of lockdown are a distant memory. For the first time in months I’m thankful that I live in Scotland.

Absurdly, if I was south of the border I would have been committing a crime.

If I pitched my tent at the foot of Helvellyn I would be breaking the law. If I slept on the banks of Ullswater I would be breaking the law. If I kipped in the shadow of a New Forest oak I would be breaking the law.

‘What’s now needed from landowners is trust’

While Scots are allowed to camp almost anywhere - so long as they observe the Outdoor Access Code - campers in England are constrained to campsites (and certain sections of Dartmoor National Park).

With travel abroad looking increasingly uncertain, the UK is set for a staycation boom and holiday lets have been inundated with bookings. Many are being stretched further as they look to honour bookings cancelled last year. As is often the case, it’s customers - who have been obliged by law to spend the past year indoors - who will either miss out or pay a premium for the privilege of camping outdoors.

Attempts have been made in the past to open up national parks to the public; South Downs National Park and the Lake District both invited wild campers as part of a pilot scheme in 2019 - although campers were required to pay for the privilege. This shows that there is a willingness from National Parks and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to rewild the countryside with people.

What’s now needed from landowners is trust.

The vast majority of campers in Scotland who wild camp “leave-no-trace” - respecting the privacy of nearby homes, leaving behind no litter and avoiding crowded areas.

Can the proud people of England - who have been forced to give up so many freedoms in the past year - not be trusted to look after their outdoors in a similar manner to their northerly neighbours?