#8 'Rules' of Wild Camping
Updated: Mar 22
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The Law - Can I Wild Camp in The UK?
There seems to be similar rules for England and Wales, and technically you do not have the right to pitch a tent without the landowner's permission. This is because it would be a civil offence - trespass if you did. Furthermore, if you refused to leave if asked, you would be committing a criminal offence. Therefore the police would be able to arrest you. However, The Countryside Rights of Way Act (2000) opened the countryside to the general public, including most mountainous regions, which means we have the 'right to roam'. Unfortunately, the Act did not include the 'right to camp' apart from Dartmoor, which has local bylaws that permit camping (See here). I know what you are thinking. 'She's said we are not allowed to camp, yet she does it all the time.'
So, Wild camping is tolerated in England and Wales (although I cannot speak for all areas) as long as you follow certain rules. The National Trust (which owns land in The Lake District) has recognised guidelines on its website. They identify the difference between illegal fly camping and acceptable wild camping, see here, because they want people to enjoy the countryside.
I have never been asked to move on, and I feel it is because I follow the rules below. If you do get asked to move, try and explain that you'll follow the rules and see what they say, I'm sure if it appears you are abiding, then you should be ok, but if they are insistent and it is safe to do so, then move on. I would also like to mention that I have only wild camped within National Park boundaries; this is where we have the right to roam, and venturing outside these boundaries could put you at risk of a farmer's/landowner's wrath.
Fortunately for Scotland, the rules are far more straightforward. Scotland's rules have gone beyond England's Countryside Rights of Way Act and added that wild camping is allowed if you don't camp near buildings or enclosed fields with crops and animals, camp away from roads and leave no trace. A few areas (Around Loch Lomond) at certain times of the year require a permit (To keep the numbers down); see here.
Unfortunately for Northern Ireland, it seems much less tolerated as there is no right to roam; check out the site here.
What Are The Rules?
#1 - Leave No Trace
It's simple, the spot where you camp should look the same when you leave as when you arrive. Unfortunately, it has become apparent since COVID that people think they can leave their rubbish behind for someone else to clean up. This has included fire pits, scorched ground and leftover BBQs and debris; this is unacceptable and will only ruin it for everyone if this behaviour continues.
This also includes human waste; please don't urinate near any water source. If you need to poop, please ensure you have a trowel to dig a hole to bury it. Also, pack out your toilet paper in resealable bags. It can take more than five weeks for toilet paper to decompose, and animals will dig it up. (A good tip is to dig the hole when you get there, so it's ready in case you need it, and cover it over if you don't).
#2 - Camp Above the Highest Fell Wall
Your campsite needs to be unobtrusive, away from footpaths, not near a water source, and above the highest fell wall (Usually around 400m+). The National Trust consider camping below the fall wall and at a lakeshore or any lowland area illegal fly camping unless it is in a designated campsite.
#3 - Keep Your Group Small
I would never camp with more than two tents, so a friend and me, and if I ever got to a spot where I was going to pitch, and there were others there, then I would move on, so I always have a backup plan. Some popular places have 35 different tents pitched up; this isn't wild camping. This is a campsite, and these areas cannot sustain this. Please move on.
#4 - No Firestarting
We must have all seen the devastation that fires have caused in our countryside this summer, so fires and BBQs should not be lit. They will damage the ground and can quickly spread, particularly in summer. Any fire, even enclosed by rocks, will damage the environment, as will a disposable BBQ, so these should not be used any time of the year. I have a bush box, a self-contained metal box where you can have a little fire raised above the ground and cook on. I could use it in winter if I use a foil base to ensure it doesn't damage the environment. There may be a reason not to do this, so if you know of one, please let me know./(I am yet to use it)
#5 - From Dusk till Dawn
No one should see you; trust me, there are people in the fells until very late. They start very early, so you shouldn't be setting up camp before dusk, and you need to be clearing camp at dawn, therefore only staying one night. Let's not ruin the countryside view for other people wanting to experience it as it's meant to be.
#6 - Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil
It's all well and good that we camp above the highest fell wall and not near any paths, but we also need to bear in mind that we need to watch out behaviour when we are too. Don't become a beacon at the top of the mountain for the valleys below. Put a light on if you need to find something, or take that classic lit-up tent photo but turn the light off afterwards. I don't think I've been on a camp where my eyes haven't got used to the dark, and you would be surprised at how much you can see, far more than with a light on. The same goes for music, do not play music loudly for others to hear; you would be surprised by how far it travels. Use earphones if you need music, and another thing that drives me mad is brightly coloured tents that don't blend into the scenery. Keep them for campsites. Think Stealth wherever possible.
#7 - Follow the Countryside Code
As well as all of the above, don't forget The Countryside Code. A few key points are summarised below:
Leave gates and property as you find them.
Keep dogs under control if you have one.
Do not block any driveways etc., when parking.
Do not damage anything.
#8 Don't Forget Your Own Safety
Following the above rules is great for the environment and the sake of others, but also important is that we have to look after ourselves too. I have written a blog post on how to stay safe; see it here.
Plan your route - Plan to go somewhere that is achievable and safe, always carry a map and compass, and know how to use them.
Check the weather before you set off - Know what the next 24 hours will be like, and don't go if it's not suitable. Check out MWIS.
Don't rely on your phone - Carry another GPS/Satellite device in case of an emergency. I use a Garmin Mini for this purpose, which gives my family and me great comfort.
Do not take any risks - Stop and turn around if the weather comes in and you don't think you can handle it, don't make big jumps between rocks and don't sit on the edge of anything to get that Instagram photo.
Have the right kit - This includes clothing for all conditions, the right tent, bag and mat and food and water (will there be a water source near where you camp?).
So if you want to go on a Wild Camp, follow these rules for your sake, for the environment's sake and everyone else's sake, it's a fantastic thing to do, but we need to look after our environment. We all make mistakes, but as long as we learn from them, all is good.
See my Beginners Guide to Wild Camping here
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If you don't already use the Ordnance Survey App, you can download it here, enabling you to download the GPX routes. I use this App to plan all my hikes, and as its OS, it mirrors the paper map you should always use in conjunction.
Disclaimer: These rules are what I follow to ensure I stay within the 'rules'; however, as you have read, wild camping is not technically allowed in England and Wales, so try and follow these rules to ensure it isn't banned completely. Please contact me if you feel anything is wrong with this article.