Get Aff Ma Land

Reports suggest that certain streets in Glasgow and Edinburgh are among the most dangerous in Europe, with stabbings, shootings and slappings at an all-time high. One way to eliminate the problem would be to ban the public from entering these areas altogether. What, too extreme? More than a little impractical? Not really fair to punish the innocent masses for the actions of the violent few? The guardians of the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park might disagree.

Following unprecedented levels of disruption and destruction within particular areas of the National Park caused by “a minority of people engaging in a range of anti-social behavior”, the National Park Authority (NPA) has decided that the most appropriate measure would be to ban all wild, or ‘informal’ camping on the eastern side of Loch Lomond between Drymen and Rowardennan. Consultation with the wider community around the issue of the proposed ban resulted in 60% of respondents voting in favour; that’s around 171 people. A further month of consultation is to follow in July/August and if all goes to plan, the byelaw could be approved by the Scottish Government and in place by April 2011.

The NPA claim that the decision to propose this course of action was ‘difficult’ and argue that the easily accessible eastern shore of the loch is bearing the brunt of the anti-social behaviour perpetrated by this very busy minority and desperately needs protecting, hence the byelaw proposal. They also claim that most informal campers do so within 29 metres of their car and most regularly during May to August. If a ban must be imposed, it might be a better use of limited resources to ban camping in these specific areas rather than in the massive area covered by the proposed byelaw. Perhaps with the savings, they could purchase a floating vehicle of some sort from which their Rangers can patrol vulnerable shores from the water. I’m quite surprised they haven’t considered this already. But then, forcing wild campers to seek out less accessible areas might only encourage more littering, what with it being slightly easier to humph one’s camping paraphernalia on the return journey if one doesn’t have a bulging bin bag strapped to one’s back. I’m quite the fan of clearing up my own camping-induced detritus, however wild it’s been, but I’m aware that not everyone shares my views, and someone has to think ahead.

However, if the NPA’s research is correct, most wild campers do so less than 30 metres from their car, and it’s quite unlikely that they’d all go to the trouble of seeking less accessible secluded areas for a mash-up, supporting my idea of a car-park camping ban. Oh, and by the way, it might help a little if the NPA saw fit to install the odd rubbish bin in their car parks. We’re not all savages. Some of us might even put things in them.

Of course, no-one with any sense wants to see the shores of Loch Lomond in ruins or to experience the sort of aggressive behaviour that’s been increasingly reported in the area. I don’t doubt that there are regular lochside instances of willful destruction, vandalism and general beastliness and a remedy is clearly needed, but the language of the consultation documents and various NPA statements seems to attribute this behaviour primarily to young people, usually drunk young male people from in and around Glasgow, most likely terrorists, and the disconcertingly vague ‘wild campers’. There are always those who care not a jot for the rights of others but they can be found in every arbitrary group you care to ram people into and are in no way limited to the young, the drunk, or West Coasters. This type of lazy prejudice only enrages the yoot even more, dontcha know, and you don’t want to cross a wild camper.

As we all know, Loch Lomond’s bounteous gifts are enjoyed by numerous interested parties, including anglers, water-skiers and motor-boaters. Where is mention of their potential culpability in desecrating its eastern shores among the consultation papers? Where’s their pre-emptive punishment? And what of the thousands who travel from distant lands every year to ‘do’ the West Highland Way: surely some of them contribute to the Lomond Landfill? Where’s their blame pie? On a side note, should ramblers ensure that they keep moving at all times for fear that if they rest too long, the authorities will think they’ve set up camp for the night and duly arrest them?

It would appear that the NPA has a two-fold vision of visitors, all of whom they hold in the highest regard according to the irritating and incessant references to ‘Visitor Experience’ in their PR bumph. There are the right type of visitors – families, anglers, walkers, day trippers, quiet types, readers – and the wrong type – young, loud, lively, agenda-free, non-compliant, campers – and they can have the right sort of experience, sod off, or be arrested. I’m all for acting responsibly but how they hope to implement such a ban and simultaneously improve the Experience of all Visitors is unclear, as are the means by which they intend to police this relatively vast area.

The repeated use of the phrase ‘visitor pressure’ in the consultation documents suggests that the NPA’s job would be significantly easier if we’d just leave them alone and keep our grubby hands off their loch. How welcoming, and so in keeping with their Visitor Experience priorities. A particularly striking quote from these documents sums it up well: “The NPA would like to shift the resource allocation from dealing with the problems after they have started, to preventing the situations from arising.” Well, wouldn’t we all dearies, wouldn’t we all, but there remains this irritating facet of human existence called volition, which tends not to take such unrealistic expectations into account as it weaves its unpredictable and perfectly legal way through Life Valley.

Uncharacteristically realistic, the documents do acknowledge the potential for ‘trouble’ to be displaced to the surrounding areas in the event of a restricted ban, and the most sobering sentiment of all provides a glimpse into the future of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and our freedom: “In tackling the issues in East Loch Lomond, approaches to managing the problem will be developed and can be rolled out to other areas both in and outside the National Park.” Brrr. Grant Moir, Director of Conservation and Visitor Experience, quite rightly asserts that the area is a ‘national asset’ worth protecting. So is the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.

“It shall be an offence for any person to a. set up, pitch, erect or construct an encampment; b. use or occupy within said encampment a tent, wigwam, tarpaulin or other form of shelter; or c. sleep overnight outdoors or in a vehicle within the Restricted Zone.” Encampment? Occupy? Restricted Zone? What the hell’s been going on in that park? By this wording though, you can sleep outdoors overnight as long as you don’t erect any sort of shelter and you’re completely exposed. Surely the corpse clean-up operation’s only going to eat into those limited resources, and I can’t see how this fits in with the whole Visitor Experience pledge. But then what would I know about it? I’m just a savage.

Article Contributed by Elle Matheuse.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of