It’s hard to believe but we are already more than a month on from the introduction of the new Camping Byelaws, so it’s a good time to update on how things are going.
The last few weeks have been busy in lots of ways. We’ve even had an early glimpse of summer with some fabulous weather which I’m pleased to say brought lots of people out to enjoy the National Park, including camping.
This is great to see. As we have said all along, responsible camping is welcome in the National Park.
Why we have byelaws?
The byelaws have been introduced because the number of visitors to some of our most easily accessible lochshore areas, plus the antisocial behaviour of some campers going back many years, has a major impact on the environment and the experience of other campers and visitors to these beautiful areas.
I’m not keen to dwell on the past but if you need a reminder of the kind of behaviour we’ve witnessed over a number of years, just have a look through the many photos of damage and litter in this album.
We’ve had people booking camping permits from day one and (as at 29th March) 81% of permits have been booked through our new online system.
A small percentage of bookings have been made on the day which is a good sign that people are following the advice being provided by our Rangers on the ground to make sure they are complying with the byelaws once they get here.
This is echoed in what the Rangers are experiencing when talking to people out and about in the Camping Management Zones. As with East Loch Lomond where there were already byelaws in place, most people want to do the right thing and are happy to comply once they know what to do.
Our focus will continue to be on engagement and education first. We’re not looking to catch people out and formal action will only ever be taken as a last resort.
Of course, with any new system or facility there will always be snagging issues. At our new Loch Chon campsite, the running water was unavailable for a few days after opening due to a temporary problem with the new connection. We immediately put in place contingency plans for anyone still wishing to camp so that they still had water and toilets at all times. The connection problem was fixed and the hot and cold water is up and running.
When it comes to camping, the Scottish weather always has a big part to play and is unfortunately the one thing we can’t control. Despite the lovely few sunny days we had at the end of March, the first three weeks of the month were very wet and this has had meant that a small number of pitches were too wet to camp on so these were not available to book. This can happen at any campsite at any point in the season. We have provided more than the 300 camping places which we had promised so that we have some flexibility to manage these issues.
The most important thing is that we are responding quickly to any issues that arise and despite these snags, we’ve still had a number of people camping at the site and giving us positive feedback on their stay. This included our first Duke of Edinburgh group who brought a group of young people and had a great visit.
Loch Chon campsite provides a great opportunity to experience informal camping with bookable pitches, parking, running water and toilets in one of the most picturesque locations in the National Park. Fire bowls and firewood are available to help enjoy a beautiful night under the stars. We also have wardens on hand to welcome guests and offer them advice about enjoying the surroundings.
We’ve also had maintenance teams out checking and carrying out any work needed at camping permit areas, such as targeting litter blackspots and strimming back vegetation if required . We will continue to keep a close eye on these and carry out work as needed and have this week been correcting some problems with signage at these sites, including unfortunately signs that have been vandalised.
Within the Three Lochs Forest Drive, which is an actively managed forest, we are continuing to work with Forestry Commission Scotland to manage permit areas in relation to forest operations in order to ensure there continues to be plenty of camping spaces in this excellent woodland landscape.
It’s still very early days and it will take time for some sites to bed in. As the weather (hopefully!) improves into Spring and Summer we look forward to welcoming more campers to our sites and permit areas.
At the same time as the byelaws becoming operational, we are continuing to work on introducing more facilities for campers in the coming year. As set out in our Camping Development Strategy, we will introduce toilets to our larger permit areas in the Three Lochs Forest Drive and South Loch Earn. We are also looking at improving motorhome facilities on West Loch Lomond.
There has been a lot of coverage online and in the media about the new byelaws. This is to be expected and welcomed. These byelaws are a big change and whatever your views, it’s important that we talk about the byelaws and raise awareness of how they work.
We are continuing to communicate across a range of channels focusing on providing accurate information about how the byelaws work. Our message is about providing opportunities for access and a wide range of recreational activities in these busy areas.
The National Park Authority strongly believes in the right to responsible public access as demonstrated by the success in the recent Drumlean access case.
Gathering feedback from campers, other visitors, stakeholders and the local communities is vital to the operation of the byelaws. Last week we held the second Your Park Stakeholder Forum. We certainly found the session useful and hope that those who could attend (including Ramblers Scotland, Mountaineering Scotland, Scottish Canoe Association and a number of the communities from around the Park) found it helpful too.
We are keen to hear about people’s experiences and use this to fine tune the operation of the byelaws and camping areas as the season goes on. We’re doing this through our Rangers talking to people on the ground, taking on board feedback from online channels and sending everyone who books a permit or campsite an online visitor survey. So far the survey responses we’ve had have been really positive with 85% of respondents saying they would recommend camping in a permit area.
Where questions or concerns have been raised we are listening and taking action where we can. This is something we will continue to do over the coming months.
Overall, while this first month hasn’t all been plain sailing, I’m happy with how things are going and will continue to look at improvements as we move towards the summer.
Fingers crossed for more of that fantastic sunshine!