Wild camping to be legalised across parts of England and Wales in new scheme

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A form of 'wild camping' will be legalised across parts of England and Wales in a pilot scheme - Duncan Andison (Duncan Andison (Photographer) - [None]

A pilot platform launched this week is legalising wild camping in England and Wales for the first time, potentially transforming access to national parks.

The website UK Wild Camp now allows avid campers the chance to book tent pitches in some the UK’s most remote landscapes, including inside national parks. Previously out-of-bounds sites include sheltered spots moments from the South Downs Way and tarn-side idylls in the Lake District.

The campaign is part of a growing movement to make the great outdoors more accessible and relevant to a broader demographic of people, to both improve wellbeing and preserve the UK’s wild places in the long-term.

Adam Afriyie, MP for Windsor, is a keen supporter. He said: “Our national parks are public assets and an opportunity for young people in cities to experience the countryside, hills and nature. If this wild camping pilot succeeds in getting more people to enjoy the wild, and doesn’t aggravate landowners or other countryside users, then we should seriously consider expanding it.”

Wild camping has been illegal in the 13 national parks (except Dartmoor) of England and Wales since their creation 70 years ago, although a current government review into the future of national parks, led by Julian Glover, may well change that.

Wild camping will be piloted in the South Downs Credit: Getty

As an interim measure, DEFRA is funding UK Wild Camp to see whether landowners are willing to let out tracts of land and whether there is an appetite to book and pay for wild camping spots in National Parks. The project will run until September with 20 new camping spots added each week until the collection is 100-strong. For now, only sites in the South Downs and Lake District are available but more national parks will be added soon.

If between 500–1000 wild campers get involved in the pilot, and landowners continue to express interest, UK Wild Camp hopes to secure the platform in the long-term.

The new platform is likely to divide outdoor enthusiasts and influencers. While some believe this is an important leap forward for the wild camping agenda, others are sceptical about having to pay landowners for the privilege. Outdoor enthusiast Vaughan Williams comments: “It is so important to the success of these great places that we try to encourage the ethical use of these landscapes by people wishing to experience them in their fullest.”

Campers are charged around £30 on booking, of which 50 per cent goes to the landowner (including farmers, estates, and trusts), and 50 per cent goes to the National Park. This fee provides an incentive to landowners and contributes towards the upkeep of paths, facilities and conservation projects within the parks. Although this takes away much of the spontaneity and freedom associated with wild camping, the aim is to get more people enjoying the great outdoors and contribute to its upkeep.

Spearheading the campaign are the founders of business consultancy Waterloo Bridge, Will Harris and John Nichols. For Harris, this is a passion project that’s been a long time coming. He said: “It all started with the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award that led me into a life of loving the wild. I’ve spent two years slogging away at this, but it’s worth it if we can change people’s lives through wild camping.”

Harris’ recently published novella Rewilding the Humans theorises that we’re all wild beings and need more opportunities to simply move from one point to another. Harris lays down reasons why wild camping should be legalised in the UK, including factors like diabetes and conservation. The overarching message is that the UK should be doing more to make sure future generations cherish the great outdoors. 

The Lake District National Park welcomes the pilot, sharing Harris’ and Nichols’ enthusiasm. Richard Leafe, Chief Executive of the Lake District National Park Authority, said: “While we have a long tradition of tolerance of wild camping in the Lakes, it’s not for everyone. I like this idea because it provides a pathway of camping exploration for people, as they move to a truly wild experience.”

Alongside reaching out to would-be wild campers, Wild Camp UK is also appealing to landowners to offer land for the pilot. Those that are willing to take part can remove their listing at any time and decide exactly when they would like to welcome campers: the platform has been designed to provide landowners with a safe space to trial wild camping permissions.

With rewilding gaining momentum in the conservation agenda, the argument for rewilding humans, too, is increasingly compelling. The question is whether we’re ready, and whether we’re willing to pay. As Leafe says, “It rarely rains in the Lake District.”

How to do it

Book now on https://www.ukwildcamp.org and read the Lake District’s wild camping advice here: https://www.lakedistrict.gov.uk/visiting/where-to-stay/wild-camping

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