A boom in irresponsible camping is wreaking havoc on our countryside

First published on: 21st July 2020

While it’s been great to see the British public embrace holiday options closer to home post-lockdown…there’s also been a boom in irresponsible camping that’s wreaking havoc on our countryside. By Sarah Bradbury.

In principle, it’s surely a great thing that holiday-goers are seizing the opportunity to make the most of the countryside and beaches on home soil. Not only for the planet, with less people hopping on short or long-haul flights to get their holiday, but also for the UK economy, with resorts and holiday regions getting a much-needed cash boost as they emerge from lockdown.

However, the shift in holiday choices has not all been positive. Reports have emerged of inexperienced campers taking to wild camping due to campsites being fully booked.

This Guardian article reports that The National Trust has seen a huge increase in “fly camping”, where huge amounts of litter, and even sometimes tents and other camping equipment, is being left behind by illegal campers.

They’ve likened the approach to that seen at festivals – I’m sure we’ve all cringed at the debris-strewn fields left in the wake of hungover festival-goers we’ve had to pick our way across to make our way to the exits.

I recall going to Burning Man for this first time last year and really learning what “leave no trace” means – after a week in the Nevada desert we spent whole days combing the sand to double check we hadn’t left a single sequin or cigarette butt and took all our rubbish and grey water away with us. Quite the contrast to a reckless Brit-fest attitude where it’s assumed someone will be clearing up after you.

Now those same scenes are being replicated in remote parts of the country that normally only see a handful of backpackers setting up camp. It not only means resources need to be redirected to clean-up operations, but can also pose a threat to wildlife.

In one clear-up in Kielder Forrest in Northumberland, Jennifer Watson, a Forestry England ranger said: “It was like a bomb had hit an off-licence. There were eight tents, 16 chairs, eight sleeping bags, a duvet, pillows, a huge amount of booze containers – and there must have been at least 100 nitrous gas containers.”

Furthermore, there are concerns the issue will only be exacerbated throughout the summer. With many still not ready or able to travel abroad, and campsites already fully booked and running at lower capacity in many places, there could be more and more instances of inexperienced campers improvising.

Thinking of taking a camping trip this summer?

Here are some top tips on how to be a responsible camper:

  • Check if you are allowed to camp in any area before you pitch up, whether it’s private of public land.
  • Leave no trace: take this seriously. Take everything you brought in with you out with you again. This includes any tiny bits of litter or toilet paper.
  • Before setting out, repackage your food and snacks in resealable food bags. This will reduce the weight and rubbish you have to take away with you at the end.
  • If you want to really be an eco-warrior, also pick up and take away any litter you see left by others.
  • For cooking, use a camp stove instead of a campfire to reduce your impact on the land. If you do want to have a campfire, double check restrictions in the area, especially if there could be high risk of forest fire. Ensure you completely distinguish it after use.
  • When cleaning, washing or brushing your teeth, be sure to keep soaps, detergents and toothpaste out of the waterways.
  •  Try and stay on the marked hiking trails around your campground, so as to not trample the surrounding ecosystem.