Stirling and its surrounding rural areas offer a variety of outdoor spaces which are hard to rival anywhere else in Scotland. In recent months, many readers will have been out enjoying the beauty that our wonderful countryside has to offer.
Spending time outside in the fresh air for exercise has huge benefits for both our physical and mental wellbeing and this is something which I have been heartened to see has continued as lockdown restrictions have eased. Our countryside is, after all, a place well suited to socialising in a physically-distanced manner. Many have chosen to enjoy our loch shores and beauty spots, and I am pleased to see that most visitors do so responsibly and have a great time without causing any problems. It is also vitally important for small businesses located in rural areas that they see a return of customers and trade. Thank you to all of you who have done so in the past few months.
However, I have been greatly saddened by the actions of a minority of people who have been intent on causing mayhem and damage through their selfish behaviour. Damage to trees, anti-social noise, careless littering and abandoned firesites are all too commonplace across our popular locations. This has been a problem all over Scotland, but I have been contacted by many concerned constituents who feel that our beautiful countryside is being spoiled by the destructive behaviour of a few.
In Scotland, we have the right to roam which gives us all the great privilege of being able to access the wild areas of our countryside with very few restrictions. Indeed ‘wild camping’ is a practice that has been carried on in Scotland ever since access to the countryside became popularised at the end of the 19th century. However, responsible wild campers take away everything they bring with them and leave no trace of their presence, in line with the rules of the Scottish Access Code. Those that cause problems are not wild camping. It has been called ‘Dirty Camping’ but even that does not convey the range and scale of the damage they create.
In an attempt to manage camping in the busiest locations, Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park introduced byelaws and permits some three years ago. They are being supported by the Police and Council officers but the reality is that they simply do not have the resources they need to cope. The unprecedented pressures this year have merely added to an existing problem. Without proper investment from the Scottish Government in better infrastructure, such as toilets, and the provision of more resource ‘on the ground’ these issues cannot be fully addressed.
There also needs to be proper enforcement of existing laws. People who choose to ignore them and behave irresponsibly should be prosecuted quickly and efficiently. There is no point in having these laws and regulations in place if they are not being properly enforced.
There is no one simple solution to this problem and it will require all these organisations working together to provide an effective solution. I will be asking the Scottish Government to provide more funding and resources to tackle these problems and to ensure more effective enforcement of the law in these cases. It is simply not good enough for Scottish Ministers to wave away these issues and avoid responsibility.
Too many communities and individuals are having to endure unacceptable levels of disruption and too many of our beautiful locations are being blighted for this chronic underfunding to continue.
This article was originally published in the Stirling Observer on Wednesday 9th September 2020