Next week the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority Board will consider recommendations to restrict wild camping in parts of the park where anti social behaviour has been causing serious and ongoing problems. But access campaigners continue to oppose the proposed new bylaws which would, they say, penalise responsible hill-goers without really solving the issue.
The proposals announced last year were put out in a public consultation exercise, ‘Your Park’, that received over 300 responses. Just over half of respondents were opposed to the introduction of new bylaws, yet in its report the National Park Authority emphasises the positive comments it received from bodies such as SNH and Police Scotland.
'With its easy-to-reach loch shores amongst high mountains and along wooded banks the National Park has some of the best places to pitch a tent in Scotland' said Gordon Watson, chief executive of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority, in his report to the Board.
'However, these spectacular areas can no longer withstand the unmanaged camping activity and further action is required. These proposals seek to achieve the better conservation and protection of our busiest and most heavily used loch shores which experience significant damage and degradation from unmanaged camping every summer.'
The plan aims to protect the most heavily used areas from damaging camping via a two-pronged approach that would combine bylaws against ad-hoc camping with an offering of 300 new 'low-cost' and 'informal' campsite places. On the one hand camping permits are being mooted; on the other the park wants to continue education around responsible camping, and the promotion of access and recreation opportunities.
Anti social camping of the booze-and-barbecues variety is a well known problem in the National Park (and beyond), and in recent years the Park Authority has been increasingly concerned that the natural beauty and economy of the area is being severely damaged. The problems - and it's hard to miss them if you drive through - range from litter and fire damage to summer-long caravan encampments in laybys, the abandonment of entire campsites - tents and all, drunken antics, live trees being cut for firewood and people crapping all over the place.
A seasonal camping ban which has been in place for several years on the east shore of Loch Lomond has largely solved such issues here, says the Park.
In their report the Park Authority quote police figures of an 81% drop in anti social behaviour crimes in the area. However, opponents of the bylaws have raised serious questions about these figures, which they point out cover the whole of the Drymen police beat (of which East Loch Lomond is only a very small part) and which were mainly attributable to the fact that the Drymen Show and dance was cancelled in 2012.
Nevertheless, having declared that experiment a success the Park Authority now proposes to roll it out in ribbon-like management zones covering all of the most popular and accessible loch shores across the park, including: the west side of Loch Lomond; north Loch Long; roadside parts of Glen Falloch; large strips around Loch Ard and Loch Venachar; and the road side of Loch Lubnaig, Loch Earn and Loch Voil - in all, 3.7% of the park's area.
'Among the many magnificent landscapes in the National Park, the lochs and loch shores stand out as perhaps our most distinctive and memorable natural attractions and, therefore, deserve particular attention and care' said Gordon Watson.
'These proposals recognise our responsibility to promote access and recreation in the Park, and take a measured and proportionate approach designed to protect the lochshore environments under threat, while delivering enhanced camping provision.'
'These recommendations build on the significant success of the balanced package of measures to tackle the same issues on east Loch Lomond since 2011, as well as years of evidence gathered from Ranger patrols and from Operation Ironworks with Police Scotland.'
However a row has been festering away for some time between the Park Authority and its critics. Prominent opponents, from broadcaster Cameron McNeish to former chief inspector of the area, Kevin Findlater, who oversaw policing of Loch Lomond until 2013, argue that camping bylaws are a blunt instrument that will affect law abiding countryside users as much as the anti-social brigade; that they undermine Scotland's hard-won access legislation; and that in any case they will merely displace problem camping elsewhere rather than solving the issue.
Today the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) and Ramblers Scotland have jointly issued a strongly worded response to the plan.
They are, they say, 'disappointed' that the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park is continuing with its bylaw proposals.
Andrea Partridge, Access Officer for the MCofS, said:
'Many thousands of people will be affected by these proposals, from the climber and walker to touring cyclists and kayakers.'
'The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 was a landmark piece of legislation and yet it is being eroded by a National Park Authority which has a primary aim to promote understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the area by the public.'
'There is no commitment in the proposals to provide camping facilities before the byelaws are introduced' she added. '[N]or to back these up with a rural clearway, alcohol ban and physical closure of the existing areas where people camp.'
'The National Park is simply removing the rights of the responsible majority to camp in the ‘management zones’.'
'The various documents being presented to the board talk about the problems of litter and toileting and yet the National Park Authority has not provided facilities for day visitors in these key locations and ‘honeypots’.'
And criticising the consultation process, she said:
'Despite 51% of respondents to the consultation opposing the byelaws, the National Park has continued to pursue this policy and has ignored many of the comments made.'
'Crime figures and statistics that were presented to the public in the consultation have been shown to have been misrepresented and comments from key organisations such as the Local Access Forum have not been included in the Consultation Report.'