Meeting date: Wednesday, September 9, 2020
Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 09 September 2020
Agenda: Presiding Officer’s Statement, Point of Order, Portfolio Question Time, Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, Fisheries Bill, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Dirty Camping
- Presiding Officer’s Statement
- Point of Order
- Portfolio Question Time
- Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill
- Fisheries Bill
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Dirty Camping
The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-22367, in the name of Murdo Fraser, on tackling dirty camping. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I ask members who wish to speak to press their request-to-speak buttons now, and I call Murdo Fraser to open the debate.
That the Parliament understands that there has been a recent increase in incidents of so-called dirty camping across Mid-Scotland and Fife and the rest of the country; notes that this sees people set up camp near lochs, beaches and forests and carry out carry out irresponsible actions such as cutting down trees, lighting fires and leaving abandoned tents, litter and waste; believes that these abhorrent practices have led to substantial expense to local authorities and landowners, who are left to clean up the mess; acknowledges that it is unrelated to traditional wild camping, which involves leaving no trace of one’s presence; notes that Perth and Kinross Council has established a multi-agency approach to tackle dirty camping, which involves Police Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and communities, and sees action taken where necessary and runs a communication campaign to promote good behaviour; and notes the calls for similar approaches to be adopted across Scotland and for solutions, such as local permit schemes, to be explored.18:03
Thank you, Presiding Officer—it is good to finally get to the start of the debate. I thank members from all sides of the chamber who signed my motion to allow the debate to take place.
Although dirty camping is an issue in my local area of Perth and Kinross and across Mid Scotland and Fife, I know that it is a national problem. I am sure that members will want to comment from their different local perspectives on what has been a significant issue during this summer, in particular.
I will start by putting the debate in context. There is a long Scottish tradition of what we know as wild camping, in which individuals—singly or in groups—go into the countryside to camp, taking everything with them and taking everything away at the end of the trip, leaving no trace of their presence but footprints. Wild camping has been going on in Scotland for decades, if not centuries. I have done it myself in the past, braving bugs, rain and midges—a lot of midges. It is important to stress that that is not what tonight’s debate is about. I want genuine wild camping to be able to continue without restriction.
We are talking tonight about something quite different: the relatively recent phenomenon of what we call “dirty camping”. That is where groups of individuals—often large groups—camp at the roadside, on a loch shore or at a beauty spot, taking a large amount of equipment with them. They cut down trees and light fires, and they often play loud music and disturb local residents. At the end of their stay, they do not tidy up but leave a mess behind them—a mess of litter and human waste. They often leave behind some of the camping equipment that they brought with them—in some cases, entire tents and sleeping bags have been abandoned.
In my area, there has been a significant problem with dirty camping over many years, and this summer it seems to have got a lot worse. It is particularly acute on lochsides in highland Perthshire—around lochs such as Rannoch, Tummel, Tay and Earn—and in attractive glens such as Glen Shee and Glen Lyon. Local residents in those areas are both concerned and distressed by the explosion in dirty camping. Passing places on narrow roads are blocked by parked cars, field gates are obstructed, litter is left for someone else to clear up and there can often be a problem with noise nuisance into the very early hours of the morning.
Earlier this summer, there was a horrific incident at the Loch of Clunie, just outside Blairgowrie. A local estate worker went down at 3 am to remonstrate with a group of men who were dirty camping and playing loud music, which was disturbing local residents. He ended up being stabbed and seriously wounded—fortunately, not fatally—and individuals have been charged with the offence. That is an extreme case, but it illustrates what can go wrong if the issue is not addressed.
As I mentioned, dirty camping has been an issue for some years, but the numbers seem to have exploded this summer, in particular. That may well be because of Covid-19 restrictions on overseas travel, which mean that many more people are taking their holidays closer to home. Whatever the reason, it is fast becoming a crisis in rural Scotland, and it needs to be addressed.
What needs to be done? First, we need to consider whether the laws in this area are adequate. The law on access to Scotland’s countryside, which currently provides for a right of responsible access, permits wild camping, but it is clear that the dirty camping to which I have referred is already unlawful. The problem is that the law is, in effect, unenforceable. The only remedies that are available to a landowner would involve going through the civil courts, which is an inefficient, bureaucratic and expensive way of trying to resolve the problem, and it would mean trying to identify the individuals involved. The law as it stands is simply not working.
The problems with dirty camping around the shores of Loch Lomond led the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park to experiment some years ago with the introduction of a permit scheme for campers in the area. That was hugely controversial at the time, and it was vigorously opposed by groups such as Ramblers Scotland. I remember at that time raising concerns that the scheme would have a displacement effect, pushing people who had previously camped around Loch Lomond to camp at other sites further afield, outside the restricted zone—and there is a great deal of evidence to show that that is exactly what has happened.
One possibility would be to look at extending permit camping zones to other parts of the country, beyond the existing scheme in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. However, the creation of an exclusion zone is a lengthy and expensive business that involves the introduction of byelaws by local authorities or by the relevant national park authority. Some people make the reasonable argument that the money that would be required to do that might be better spent in other ways.
Beyond the legal issues, there are two areas that need to be addressed: education and enforcement. It is a sad fact that many of the people who indulge in dirty camping may not actually realise that they are doing anything wrong. People see what looks like an empty piece of land in an attractive rural spot and they do not appreciate that there are restrictions on how they might behave while they are there.
Will the member take an intervention?
Yes, of course.
I call—I have forgotten the member’s name.
It is Maree Todd. [Laughter.]
It has been such a long day. I am hearing that the member is Mairi Gougeon or Clare Haughey—it is neither of them. It is Maree Todd.
I will take over from you, Presiding Officer, if you would like me to.
No, thank you, Mr Mountain. That is very gentlemanly of you, but I am embarrassed enough.
Maree Todd has forgotten her intervention now.
Are there any names that I have forgotten to mention, Ms Todd? I am sorry about that. Please continue with your intervention.
To help you remember my name, Presiding Officer, I will set the context. My name is Maree Todd, and I was named after Loch Maree. You will be aware of the recent wildfire that was started by a camp fire on Loch Maree.
Does the member agree with me that the Prime Minister, who recently visited Wester Ross, where I live, should be condemned for camping in an enclosed field and lighting a camp fire rather than using a stove, both without the crofter’s permission and in contravention of the Scottish outdoor access code—
This is supposed to be an intervention, Ms Todd.
Does the member agree with me, or does he believe that there should be one law for the Prime Minister and another law for the rest of us?
That was not an intervention. There was a wee hiatus that I was not expecting.
I am sorry, Presiding Officer, that you had to wait for so long for such a tiresome party political point from the member, which was—to be frank—not worthy of her.
I was talking about people who camp perhaps not being aware of the restrictions or that their waste might have an impact on water courses that might be needed to serve animal troughs or even human dwellings. They might not realise that there are families living nearby, whose quality of life will be impacted by their playing music or making excessive noise. We need much better education for those who use the countryside on how they should behave responsibly. We also need much better enforcement of the laws as they currently stand, whether or not we consider that they need to be improved.
In my area, Perth and Kinross Council has established a new initiative, working with local countryside rangers and the police, to try to address the problem. Those who are camping at popular spots are visited and reminded of their responsibilities. Where necessary, enforcement action will be taken, although that is by no means a simple matter. It is an approach that could be followed elsewhere in Scotland.
There is, in all of this, a real problem with stretched resources, not least because issues will often arise at weekends or outwith normal working hours. Leadership from the Scottish Government is required to assist both local authorities and the police in ensuring that they have what it takes to address the problem when there are so many other demands on their time.
A final point for consideration is whether adequate facilities in the form of more informal camping sites might be established, with the provision of toilet facilities and rubbish bins, so that those who want to camp informally have more safe and secure places in which to do so.
I have tried to summarise briefly what I believe is a significant problem affecting rural Scotland and what more needs to be done to tackle it. I am sure that other members will want to speak from their own perspectives about the issue and how it impacts on their constituents.
The key point is that the Scottish countryside should be there for all of us to enjoy, but that needs to be done in a responsible manner, and we need to take account of the interests of those who live and work there.
I remind all members who wish to speak that they must press their request-to-speak buttons. I am not naming anyone in particular, but I hope that they have pressed the button now.18:12
I am grateful for the chance to speak in the debate, and I thank Murdo Fraser and congratulate him on bringing the debate to the chamber.
I proudly represent a constituency that I consider to be the most breathtakingly beautiful part of the country. Indeed, rural Stirling is home to some of the most spectacular scenery and locations in the world, from the Devil’s Pulpit at Finnich Glen to the Falls of Dochart in Killin, and from the majestic mountains of the Trossachs to the spectacular slopes of the Fintry hills. The area is also the site of some of Scotland’s great lochs, including Katrine, Venachar, Ard, Lubnaig and Lomond. Is it any wonder, then, that rural Scotland is a prime destination spot for visitors?
I am the first to encourage people to visit my constituency, to enjoy its surroundings and support its businesses, and that has not changed. However, the Covid-19 outbreak has meant that fewer people have taken a holiday abroad and have instead looked to alternative staycations. That has resulted in some days—particularly when the weather has been fine—when people in towns and villages such as Callander, Aberfoyle, Killin, Balmaha, Drymen and a good few others have felt under siege. At times, local communities have struggled to cope with the pressure that a huge influx of visitors has brought.
We have seen local shops virtually emptied of goods; car parks filled to dangerous levels and cars parked in dangerous locations; and litter bins overfilled, with litter strewn over wide areas. Often, to the deep concern of locals, there have been too many people concentrated in one place, contrary to social distancing rules. We have also heard alarming reports of people behaving recklessly and entering dangerous areas such as the Mugdock quarry and the Carron Valley reservoir.
However, people are coming to the area not only for day trips. Rural Stirling is a great place to go camping, and as soon as the 5-mile travel restriction was lifted, that is exactly what people, understandably, came to do.
Much of my constituency is within the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park, where the local camping byelaws that Murdo Fraser referred to are in place. Disappointingly, as restrictions were lifted, reports flooded in of people abandoning large amounts of litter, including tents, sleeping bags, barbecues and other paraphernalia. It was not long before 20 people were charged in one weekend with having broken those local byelaws. The photographs in the press were devastating, showing widespread littering as well as severe damage to woodland and—disgustingly—human waste.
The images of how a few thoughtless people treated our beautiful area filled me with anger and sadness. How dare they? Stirling is a welcoming place. If you are going to behave like that, stay away.
With my colleague Alyn Smith MP, I have been involved in a series of meetings with the national park, Police Scotland, community organisations and Stirling Council to try to find a solution to the challenges that many communities face. I thank those communities and the officers and staff of Police Scotland, the national park and Stirling Council for all their efforts during the summer.
Wider education will be vital in future, but communities in rural Stirling must know that those who break the law will be prosecuted and that they will not be left to pick up other people’s litter—or worse. Rural communities such as the one that I represent are the most welcoming places imaginable, but a small minority of people have made their lives difficult in recent weeks. All that they want, and all that I ask for, is a bit of respect.
I apologise, Presiding Officer—I must leave before the end of proceedings because of the lateness of the hour.
I understand that Mr Crawford, and I understand about late hours.18:16
I thank Murdo Fraser for securing the debate.
The £3 million VisitScotland scheme to encourage holidays at home in Scotland has resulted in more staycations, but communities have largely been left to clean up the consequences. In my constituency of Galloway and West Dumfries—the most beautiful constituency in Scotland and the perfect location for our next national park—some of our most loved areas have been violated. That has left them unsafe for visitors, with habitats destroyed and, in some instances, damage caused to the environment, which will take years to recover.
Despite the good work that is being done organisations such as the Loch Ken Trust, which has tried to address dirty camping around Loch Ken, it is clear that we need a national strategy for tackling a range of rural issues, including dirty camping, fly-tipping, wildlife crime and—as the recent NFU Mutual report suggests—rural crime.
The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 introduced the new right of responsible public access to the land and countryside. Importantly, the right of access applies only when it is exercised responsibly. The Scottish outdoor access code sets out the rights and responsibilities of those exercising that right.
It is not good enough for the minister to say that violations of that code are taken seriously, or that the issue is the responsibility of Police Scotland, as she has said previously. In 2003, we had around 350 countryside rangers in Scotland. In 2017, a survey estimated that 141 jobs had been lost in the preceding nine years. Approximately 54 per cent of those job losses were in local authorities, which have responsibility for upholding and managing access.
Local authorities have faced huge pressure, both financially and from the added burden of managing thousands of new core path miles. Scotland’s ranger services were supported by funding that was managed by Scottish Natural Heritage. However, two fiscal measures were implemented that had an impact on that support, particularly for local authorities.
Indirect funding of local authorities was stopped, which meant that SNH could not give them grant aid. That was mitigated by ring fencing funding for the ranger service, to be held in local authorities’ block grants. A few years ago, that ring-fenced protection was also removed, a policy that had a significant and detrimental effect on local authority ranger services.
To compound that, SNH made a unilateral decision to phase out grant aid to ranger services outwith local authorities, which affected non-governmental organisations, private estates, charities and community-led initiatives and led directly to more ranger job losses. Those policies have been robustly challenged by the Public Petitions Committee and I am pleased that, as a result, a review of the countryside ranger service will be published soon.
To bring members right up to date, we have sadly also lost 15 out of 35 ranger posts in the National Trust for Scotland. As we can see, the national trend is very much downwards.
There is some good news. ScottishPower Renewables has funded two part-time rangers on the southern upland way and other renewable energy organisations have employed a handful of rangers as part of community benefit, which shows that a public-private funding model can be followed in some areas.
The countryside ranger service brings a whole host of benefits to the area that it supports, managing land and water conservation and supporting recreation. Rangers provide a link between visitors and local communities, businesses and agencies, farmers, gamekeepers, foresters, access officers, biodiversity officers, Police Scotland and many other bodies. They help directly to look after the landscape and wildlife in our forest, coastal and urban areas. That will not continue as we face the loss of that expertise. I call on the Scottish Government to consider funding a countrywide countryside ranger apprentice scheme through its green recovery fund to ensure that we do not lose the knowledge that our rangers have built up over the years.
This debate may be on dirty camping, but a range of problems are caused by irresponsible access and the blot that that leaves on our natural environment. We demand more from our Government. I urge ministers to meet me and stakeholders to look at how we can provide urgent funding that will reinvigorate our much-loved and invaluable countryside rangers network.18:21
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate on tackling dirty camping. This is only our second members’ business debate since March, and I congratulate Mr Fraser on securing it.
Dirty camping has become a big issue for Scotland’s rural communities, including in my South Scotland region, since the lockdown restrictions were eased on 15 July. I restate that the debate is not about wild camping, which Mr Fraser ably described; it is about dirty camping.
The rise in the number of people taking staycation holidays in Scotland is welcome. Supporting our local economy, our small and medium-sized tourism businesses and villages and towns throughout Scotland’s rural areas is welcome. However, when enjoying staycations, and particularly when camping, people must respect our natural environment and be familiar with the Scottish outdoor access code. It was interesting to hear in the minister’s response to questions in the chamber earlier today that more than a quarter of a million people have accessed the outdoor access code online since lockdown.
In Dumfries and Galloway, we have seen a number of unfortunate incidents involving a small minority of visitors who do not respect the local area, our natural environment or the staff and volunteers who look after our areas of fantastic natural beauty. That has been a major issue in the area around Loch Ken near Castle Douglas, which Mr Carson also mentioned—the members of the Loch Ken Trust have obviously contacted us both.
When I met Loch Ken Trust members—outdoors, in a socially distanced way—with my colleague Councillor Dougie Campbell, we heard about their problems and experience. It was troubling to hear about the verbal abuse experienced by volunteers, fishing-permit staff and members of the community when they attempted to support and help visitors to find the optimal way to enjoy the beauty of our area. One staff member was threatened with physical abuse and, as I mentioned, other volunteers were verbally abused. That is not acceptable.
In recent weeks, I have raised the issue of fly camping—now widely known as dirty camping—with the First Minister, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, Dumfries and Galloway Council and Police Scotland to seek a positive way forward as soon as possible.
The constituents I engaged with from the Loch Ken Trust have some key asks of the Scottish Government, the local authority, the police and other agencies. They are interested to know whether the Scottish Government can provide a pathway that would allow local police divisions to supply community organisations’ staff and volunteers from our areas with a radio link that would connect them to the police, allowing easier quick contact. They are interested in whether the Scottish Government can offer de-escalation training to community groups and staff to help them address challenging or aggressive behaviour, providing those individuals with the confidence to better deal with adverse situations that may arise. They are also interested in whether funding can be offered to those who are entrusted with looking after our areas of natural beauty so that they can buy equipment such as body cameras—
Will the member take an intervention?
The member is coming to a conclusion—she is in her final minute.
I am sorry; I would have taken an intervention from Mr Carson if we had more time.
Well, all right—seeing as I made such a mess of things earlier, I will allow the intervention.
Does Emma Harper agree that bringing all such services together could best be facilitated through the likes of a countryside ranger service? The countryside ranger service that was provided by Dumfries and Galloway Council was very successful. Would she back the calls for funding for a nationwide countryside ranger service?
I was just coming to the point that partnership working is critical. Obviously, budgets are really challenged at the moment. The minister would need to respond to that suggestion, but I would support engagement with local authorities, the police and the community agencies out there.
We know that the asks that I mentioned might make a huge difference to how we manage our countryside and our beautiful, bonny Galloway. When we talk about how we look after our countryside, there is a well-known phrase that we should use: take only pictures and leave only footprints.18:26
I thank Murdo Fraser for securing the debate, and Ramblers Scotland and Mountaineering Scotland for the helpful briefings that they have provided.
It is important to recognise that although members have described awful reports of dirty camping, the behaviour of the vast majority of campers is responsible. Wild camping and roadside camping are lawful practices, provided that they are carried out responsibly, and I welcome the actions of the many campers who abide by the “leave no trace” ethos of the outdoor access code. It is not the case that informal camping in itself is disrespectful or antisocial, but the pollution and the debris that so-called dirty campers are creating is risking the reputation of the many responsible campers.
Camping is an opportunity to get out and see the natural beauty of Scotland and to stay in remote and rural places in an affordable way. It is also an opportunity for rural businesses and communities to welcome visitors and showcase what their local area has to offer. It brings economic benefits, as well as having the positive health impacts that are associated with being in the outdoors.
In the summer in Scotland, it can be difficult to find official places to camp, especially on the rare occasions on which the sun comes out, and doing so often requires forward planning, which does not necessarily fit in with the impulse to throw everything into a bag or the back of a car and head off. However, this year, the closure of many campsites and the restrictions on the use of other accommodation has resulted in an increase in the number of people who are camping off site and, unfortunately, an increase in so-called dirty camping.
The reasons behind that are various. Restrictions on overseas travel, reductions in household income, concerns about travelling and staying in large groups, and the cancellation of festivals and other events have all contributed to an increase in the number of people who are looking to camp, many of whom are inexperienced in doing so. To that end, it is vital that the responsibilities that we all have when enjoying access to the outdoors are communicated clearly. Many members have talked about the importance of education. While all campers have a responsibility to clean up and dispose of litter and debris, such as barbecues and equipment, that applies even more so when they are away from designated facilities.
Dirty camping in rural locations is not a new phenomenon. Outdoor groups have previously highlighted its impact on reservoirs, woodlands and beaches, and I understand that the Public Petitions Committee has looked at the issue. In the past, measures such as camping restrictions and permit schemes have been introduced in some locations, but they have had limited success, with activity often just being displaced to other areas, as Murdo Fraser said. Police Scotland has enforcement powers in relation to antisocial behaviour and threatening or aggressive behaviour, but we all recognise that its resources are limited and that the police cannot be the only tool in addressing the problem.
Related issues stem from pressure on local government funding and the financial decisions that are being taken at a local level as a result. Closure of public toilets, limited car parking and path networks, and reduced litter collections, warden and ranger services all follow from council underfunding and are leaving some communities without the infrastructure that would help to alleviate some of the negative impacts that are being highlighted in the debate. We should all be better at supporting the delivery of infrastructure that benefits campers and the wider access to the outdoors, while recognising the wider benefits that it can bring to mental and physical wellbeing, as well as the economic benefits for rural communities.
I welcome the actions taken by Perth and Kinross Council. By working across agencies and involving Police Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, as well as local communities, the focus is on communicating the importance of respectful and responsible behaviour. I would like to see such an approach being adopted more widely so that a clear message is sent out across the country about the importance of leaving no trace.
I welcome the news that the cabinet secretary will discuss the issue at a meeting next week with the national parks and others. I hope that some positive action comes from that.
As we continue to move through the stages of the pandemic, we are more than ever aware of the importance and value of getting outside to experience the nature and scenery that Scotland has to offer. We need to ensure that responsible and respectful access means that it can continue to be enjoyed by all.18:31
I thank Murdo Fraser for bringing the debate to the chamber. The matter is of great concern to many of our constituents, especially those who live in the Highlands and Islands, Perthshire, the Borders, and local beauty spots.
I start by agreeing with Murdo Fraser that there have been serious problems and a significant amount of careless, reckless and antisocial behaviour by those camping by roads and in scenic areas. I unequivocally condemn that kind of behaviour.
However, I do not want us to overreact to this, and there is a concern that we might. We must keep the problem in perspective. For example, this Friday, an interim paper is going to the Cairngorms National Park board that looks at the summer visitor experience. It says, for example that
“Early August was very busy with large numbers of visitors to the park ... Despite a noticeable increase in irresponsible behaviour the vast majority of visitors have been reacting favourably to information offered by the Rangers with few, but significant, occasions of difficult behaviour.”
A more detailed analysis of Badenoch and Strathspey, Deeside and the Atholl and Angus Glens says that the data in annex 2, to which I just referred
“shows a relatively small (by total visitor numbers) but noticeable increase in irresponsible behaviour.”
It is vital that we do not get the framing of this debate wrong. Indeed, punitive action involving police, permits, and permissions might be appropriate in particular cases, in the short term, and in particular locations, but the problem highlights wider questions about the relationship between land and people, and it also signals wider opportunities for a renaissance in outdoor recreation. From conversations that I have had with rangers and outdoor activities instructors, I know that many who have engaged with the so-called dirty campers say that they are doing things like cutting live wood and leaving litter because of genuine ignorance. Who is responsible for that ignorance?
For centuries, the law has sought to punish those who camp; to punish those who travel; and to punish those who use land for recreation. Luckily, we now have some of the best access legislation in Europe: it is a statutory right to camp responsibly in Scotland.
We should react to the situation, but rather than reacting solely to the most extreme examples, we should also ask how to encourage people to act responsibly, how to educate, and how to inspire a love of the outdoors in a generation that is more used to Mediterranean beaches and music festivals.
Scotland has woeful outdoor infrastructure, woeful basic camping facilities, and a woeful lack of toilets. It was mentioned that, at Loch Lomond National Park, byelaws restrict camping to designated sites, but there are no basic toilet facilities there and then there is surprise that people are doing what they need to do. That was the intention when the byelaws were introduced. Photomontages were presented about it.
I have cycled in the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. Those countries take outdoor recreation very seriously. They provide appropriate facilities, even in the midst of some of the most intensively managed landscapes in the world.
We therefore need to democratise our countryside, and that means a vastly expanded programme of infrastructure provision, significant media and education programmes, proper resources for outdoor education centres, and an expansion of ranger services, as Finlay Carson said. It means that we must ensure that such services have sufficient funding to protect fragile landscapes and communities, and educate visitors. We should be accelerating the hutting movement to levels that have been the norm in Germany and Finland for decades.
Land around cities should be managed primarily for recreation, community food projects and recreational hutting rather than for low-output, publicly subsidised agriculture, so that the public have easy access to high-quality, low-impact leisure opportunities. The Cairngorms National Park Authority interim paper notes that, over the summer, there appears to have been
“a shift towards a younger demographic, with an increase in visitors under the age of 35”,
so what an opportunity to turn around centuries of prejudice and hostility to those who want to enjoy the fresh air. This is the moment to transform the countryside, to embrace the newfound interest in the outdoors and put in place the infrastructure and management that is taken for granted in any normal European country.18:35
I was 22 years old when I first stayed overnight on holiday in a hotel. Up to that point, all our family holidays were under canvas. The first of them, in the early 1950s, might have been in Finlay Carson’s constituency, although it might have been in Oliver Mundell’s—I am a little uncertain. Picking up on what others have said, I have camped on the shores of Tummel, Tay, Lubnaig and Morlich, although Morlich is not in the Highlands—[Interruption.] Loch Morlich—that is correct. I have also camped on the shores at Rosemarkie, Fortrose, Achmelvich and many other places in the Highlands. Minister, I have also camped at St Cyrus, where I went with the boy scouts. Claire Baker might care to note that my first boy scout camp was inland from Anstruther. Therefore, I have spent a couple of years under canvas.
I was trained and brought up in the boy scouts by people who knew what they were doing, so I hope that, as a Stewart—one of Scotland’s great travelling families—I have sustained the traditions but behaved in a proper manner. That goes to the heart of the issue. Yes, we can do things with legislation and facilities, but we need to change what goes on inside the minds of many of these people, who have little respect for the environment or for the people who live in the environment.
Will the member take an intervention?
I call Edward Mountain.
Thank you, Presiding Officer—I am pleased that you remembered my name.
I ought to declare an interest in land. A lot of people who camp around where I live do so with huge responsibility. Sometimes, they make the mistake of leaving behind things such as the stones that they have had their fire pits in, which damage farm machinery. Some people are well intended, but could education take those well-intended people to the next step, so that we can all get on without any conflict and without damaging each other’s enjoyment of the environment?
Tread carefully, Mr Mountain.
Edward Mountain speaks some very good common sense. None of us is perfect in anything that we do, and we can all improve.
It was slightly surprising to hear Finlay Carson say that the Government should be telling councils what to spend money on. Fine—he might be correct.
Incidentally, the first time that I visited what is now my constituency I went to Sandend in, I think, 1963. I was camping, of course. The last time that I went camping—I had the misfortune to marry a spouse who does not like camping—I was in Wadi Rum, in Jordan, so that we could watch the sun rise over the desert, but she did not feel that she wanted to repeat the experience after that.
The bottom line is that camping is enjoyable—people enjoy the natural world—but we have to do it responsibly. I was an MSP when we passed land reform legislation, as others who are sitting here were—I see Murdo Fraser nodding sagely. That certainly created the idea in too many people’s minds that they, in quotes, “owned the country”, which, of course, is not true. We all owe a responsibility to the country, which is the important point that we want to take from the debate.
The role of country rangers has been emphasised. I have met many of them, and I know the valuable contribution that they make, in quite a mannerly way, to help people to understand their responsibilities.
At the end of the day, if people simply have no regard to others’ sense of what is right and proper and others’ peaceful enjoyment of where they stay, we have a problem that will not be solved by laws or trebling the number of rangers. We simply have to address that much earlier in people’s careers. Maybe we should subsidise the Boys Brigade and the boy scouts, because that is a good training ground; it is where I learned to cook and camp.
Thank you. Before I call Ms Smith, due to the number of members who wish to speak in the debate, I am minded to accept a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Murdo Fraser]
Motion agreed to.18:40
I am grateful to Murdo Fraser for securing the debate, because there is no doubt that dirty camping has become a serious issue in many parts of rural Scotland; it is part of the triple blight that has developed of litter, fly-tipping and irresponsible camping. Not only is it costing local communities and authorities huge sums of money, it is leading to significant aggravation and inconvenience. In some areas, the problem has become so bad that it is turning away tourists, who we badly need. In many local communities, people’s everyday lives are being upset, because they feel threatened by the activities of the dirty campers. Nobody should have to put up with that.
A couple of weeks ago, with the local councillor, I was taken to the shores of Loch Earn in Perthshire to meet many members of St Fillans community council, and I was astonished at what we were shown. Branches had been ripped off trees, and those that could not be burnt had been left strewn across the ground. There were old cans, broken glass, old tents, significant amounts of human waste and discarded plastic. It was positively revolting. I accept the good point that Andy Wightman made about the need to balance the law with educating people. Stewart Stevenson made very good remarks about what people learn about self-discipline by being part of the boy scouts or the Boys Brigade.
To be clear, I do not seek for that opportunity to apply only to males; females should equally have that opportunity.
I would never have thought anything else of Mr Stevenson.
I also want to flag up to the Scottish Government the pending closure of and threat to a lot of the outdoor centres that are at the core of inculcating the self-discipline that Mr Stevenson and Mr Wightman referred to, because that is an extremely important aspect.
There is a very small but increasing number of people who are totally irresponsible and for whom self-discipline does not come into it at all. They are selfish individuals, who have no care for the local community. I do not think that they want to understand what is happening there. They are pitching up at Loch Earn late afternoon on a Friday and despoiling the countryside; there is no other word for it. They are bringing expensive kit with them, such as television sets, music systems and camping equipment, so we should not pretend that those people do not have some sense of responsibility. However, I do not think that they care about the damage that they inflict on all those other communities. We have to balance the law with education; it is important that we look towards what we can do. Mr Wightman made another interesting point; it is not just about younger people but about getting people to understand their responsibilities when they visit our countryside.
However, there is a legal aspect, and Finlay Carson raised interesting issues to do with the byelaws, some of which are not strong enough and are not working well enough; if they were, we would not have such an extensive problem. I go back to the point that Mr Fraser raised earlier: to be able to enforce that law, you have to first be able to detect dirty camping properly. We have to support the police, local environment agencies and local authorities to enable them to identify, apprehend and punish the individuals who cause the problem. As things stand, I am not convinced that the law is as balanced as it should be. Local authorities have some limited powers, but there is no compulsion on them to report the incidents.
I want to make another couple of points. Technology has a role to play. A couple of weeks ago, I visited countryside conservationists who talked about a promising new app that could be used to direct the police and various people to where wildlife crime is committed. The app’s technology is promising, and it could be helpful in identifying where a criminal offence takes place. Claire Baker raised an interesting point about Perth and Kinross Council, which makes use of a hub and its information process, into which St Fillans has been pitched. We should perhaps harness technology in the future.
The question is about the balance of the law with rights and responsibilities. It is all very well to have our rights—everybody wants them—but with rights come responsibilities, and we need to understand that legislation has to balance the two. If we do not do that, we will not solve the problem.
As we cannot have notes passed to the chair, members can indicate to me if they require to leave for another commitment because we are sitting late. Is that the case for Ms Baker? That is fine—just go. It is difficult in the chair now—we used to take notes if we ran late—but members can indicate if they have another commitment. That is perfectly fine and we will understand. Is any other member in that position? I hope that the class does not completely disappear—I am letting them off early.18:47
I thank Murdo Fraser for bringing the debate to the chamber. Dirty camping in the Pentland Hills regional park has been an issue that, sadly, many of us have dealt with for a number of years. We previously had to deal with three main issues: litter, poachers and groups of camping youngsters in the summer. However, we are seeing dirty camping on a different scale this year mainly as a result of the current pandemic. In the past three weeks in the Pentlands alone, the police have engaged with 89 campsites and had to disperse groups of people on six occasions.
Police Scotland reported that, unfortunately, the increase in visitor numbers has led to an increase in littering and antisocial behaviour, which includes that of those who camp with little regard for the local environment or wildlife and who leave litter, cause damage to trees and light fires.
Littering is an on-going problem and I have on a number of occasions helped members of the Friends of the Pentlands to carry out litter picking around the car parks and paths across the regional park. Littering happens in the Pentlands. Cameron McNeish describes the Pentlands as “Edinburgh’s lungs”, yet some people are still prepared to pollute that natural asset by not taking their rubbish home.
Illegal fishing during the night at a number of reservoirs, including Cubbiedean and Threipmuir, also has a major impact on the viability of local angling clubs. Environmental damage also happens as saplings are cut down to provide firewood for camp fires. The Pentland Hills park rangers recently highlighted that fires that spread in sensitive habitats, barbecues that are not properly extinguished or are not controlled, and fire pits that leave scorch marks in the ground are causing environmental damage. We need to see a change of legislation to ban people from lighting fires when they use the regional parks for leisure.
We are also seeing increased traffic and inconsiderate parking around the Pentland Hills—people who park across junctions and access roads or narrow the carriageway—which creates major problems for farmers and local residents. On a positive note, I am pleased that, following my representations to City of Edinburgh Council roads department, we will have double yellow lines around the access roads to Threipmuir car park. However, we must encourage people not to use their cars when travelling to the Pentlands. The Scottish Government recently gave the City of Edinburgh Council £5 million to provide new walking and cycling routes. I ask that the council uses some of that money to provide a path to the Pentlands from Balerno.
I am pleased that there has been a multi-agency approach in tackling the issues that are impacting on the regional park. Local groups such as Balerno community council, Friends of the Pentlands, Malleny Angling and Youth Vision, as well as NFU Scotland, the police, local councillors and the regional park manager, are all working to stop those who are camping with little regard for the local environment or wildlife. However, due to the lack of funding, they are tackling the problem with one hand tied behind their backs.
The Scottish Government sets the budgets for national parks, but regional parks such as the Pentland Hills regional park are dependent on local authorities allocating funds each year. It is clear that there is a need for long-term funding to be made available specifically to Scotland’s regional parks. Such investment would allow path improvements to be made, giving responsible access to all users and preserving sensitive habitats.
We need to tackle the issues that I and other members have raised before they become the new norm. I do not want a repeat of what happened to a constituent of mine earlier this year. When carrying out his water bailiff duties, he was attacked and suffered severe facial injuries.
We need action and I hope that the Scottish Government will work with me and other members to find successful, long-term solutions to the problems that are associated with the Pentland Hills regional park.18:51
I, too, thank Murdo Fraser for bringing the debate to the chamber. Like him, I have a constituency that people travel great distances to visit, due to its beauty and all that it has to offer. That has a number of positive effects on our community, but it also has its downsides, and irresponsible camping is one of them. Dirty camping, as it has been called, has become a challenge for communities and must be addressed at local and national levels in order that we can put an end to it, once and for all.
I feel incredibly lucky to have Loch Lomond in my constituency. It is, undoubtedly, the most stunning and scenic natural landmark in Scotland—MSPs are nothing if not competitive, Presiding Officer. However, the presence of abandoned tents, left-behind litter and scorched ground from camp fires has tainted the beauty of the loch, just as it has done right around the national park area.
I want to make a distinction between dirty camping and wild camping, as other members have done. Wild campers often pitch their tents overnight during walking holidays and, in the main, they treat the area in which they camp with respect, and leave without a trace. As Mountaineering Scotland has pointed out, the ability to camp and the legal right to do so do not give anyone the right to be disrespectful or antisocial.
As Bruce Crawford said, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority put in place camping byelaws in order to enhance the experience for campers and to respect the local communities, which has worked reasonably well—although there is room for improvement. I do not wish to lower the tone in the chamber, but I note that only last week, the national park had to shut down one of its camping permit areas because of the amount of human waste that had been left. That is completely unacceptable, but I cannot help thinking that a number of immediate small changes could be made to address that particular problem. For example, public toilets should be open in the car parks and public spots in the permit areas. I do not care much whether they would be the responsibility of the council or the national park; it is a relatively easy solution that could be put in place. In the car park for the Cobbler, which is a hill that attracts thousands of walkers every year, there is not a single toilet. That has resulted in people being left with no choice but to go to the toilet along the footpath of the Cobbler. That is unhygienic and extremely unpleasant for all involved.
Similarly, with regard to the large amount of bottles, cans, wrappers and used barbecues that are left, bins being situated in the most popular spots would at the very least encourage people to clear up after themselves. Some of the antisocial behaviour that comes with dirty camping is inexcusable, however, and I am under no illusion that just having bins and toilets will solve it. For the majority of people, however, having such facilities will undoubtedly be welcome. I know that the national park authority has invested money in Portaloos. I never thought that I had come into politics to talk about toilets, but there you go. Provision of those toilets has been extraordinarily helpful.
I was at Duck Bay a few weeks ago. Argyll and Bute Council closed the toilet there some years ago and is being intransigent about moving it into community ownership, or into the ownership of the local hotel. The litter and waste that was left around there was incredibly sad to see.
Some issues go beyond litter and loos. I completely agree with Scottish Land & Estates, which has called for increased education and awareness on the rights of land access and the responsibilities that come with them. There is a multi-agency approach on the ground locally, involving the national park authority, councils, Police Scotland and others. The full extent of existing powers must be used when cracking down on antisocial dirty camping, and the Scottish Government needs, as a matter of urgency, to provide additional financial support for the national park and councils so that they can put facilities in place.
I encourage the national park authority and local councils—in particular, Argyll and Bute Council in my area—to continue to engage with local people on the issue. The communities and businesses in the areas concerned are suffering. I commend groups such as Friends of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs, that have a huge amount of local knowledge. Their knowledge of the problems and their views on how best to address them are invaluable, and I look forward to continuing to work with them to protect and support our beautiful national park.18:56
I, too, thank Murdo Fraser for bringing this important debate to the chamber. “Dirty camping” is a relatively new term. It is a descriptive term, and it is an accurate term. As has been mentioned already, it is different from the well-used term, “wild camping”.
We all know that lockdown has been one of the most difficult experiences that many of us have had to endure. The lifting of restrictions on 15 July has meant that people from all over the UK have flocked to my glorious and beautiful constituency to holiday there—and very welcome they are, too. However, it seems that a minority of campers are ruining the reputation of the sector by disrespecting our countryside, abusing the locals and generally behaving in a manner that is completely unacceptable.
The influx of visitors, whether they have come with motor homes, caravans or tents, has taken us all a bit by surprise. I have been inundated with emails from locals saying that camper vans and tents are parking up everywhere and anywhere—in lay-bys, car parks, fields and even in private driveways. There have been accounts of fires and of litter including nappies and human waste, which is disgusting. Communities should not have to put up with that.
Jackie Baillie was right to say that if we have more litter, we need more bins. Highland Council has been closing toilets, whereas it should possibly have been opening new ones—or, at least, considering some kind of system for charging for their use.
Tourists have also been rocking up in hired motor homes, thinking that they could get a space at a site at short notice. Some thought that they could just park wherever they liked, but they cannot do that. They need somewhere to dump their waste, too. I absolutely agree with everyone who has said that education is necessary.
I can understand why some campsites are nervous about opening, and why some have remained closed, or are only partially open, but we are now at a turning point in the services that are available for tourists, and the issue definitely needs to be addressed. Tourism is a huge sector for us, so we need to ensure that it is managed correctly. People should always feel welcome to visit my area, but they should treat it and its communities with respect.
Some kind of joint action is needed, because more than one body is involved. That action needs to be taken soon, because the problem is going to get out of hand and our communities are going to be forever disillusioned with a sector that has become essential for many people’s survival.
We want people to visit our constituencies and areas, and Scotland as a whole, because we have so much to share and promote. However, we do not want locals being unable to walk their dogs for fear of stepping in human excrement, we do not want emergency services putting out wildfires and we do not want swathes of caravans in car parks.
Recently, I met representatives of the north coast 500 route, and have received assurances that the NC500 working group will be reconvened to address the issues—which I accept is relevant only to my constituency. There has been a suggestion that representatives of communities along the route be called on to inform the public message through official channels, and to feed back suggestions for possible solutions.
I urge apps and websites that promote certain areas as being “perfect for wild camping” to ensure that the term is used correctly, and that the areas that are being promoted are not farmland, common grazings or other inappropriate sites.
As has been said already, campers should follow the Scottish outdoor access code and leave an area as they found it. I end by thanking all the volunteers and locals who have helped to clean up their communities’ roadsides, woods and beaches, and I say to my pals in the Ullapool Sea Savers that their work has not gone unnoticed.19:00
This has been a brilliant and interesting debate, and we have had a good chance to tease out some of the issues, so I thank Murdo Fraser for bringing the matter to the chamber. In debates such as this, we always have a competition about which is the best constituency. Although it is unfortunate for everyone else in the room, I have the last word and, of course, the best constituency is Angus North and Mearns. There we are. I am glad that I have settled that for everyone.
I echo Bruce Crawford’s thanks to the rangers and all the people in communities who have been involved in clearing up the mess and who have been at the forefront of dealing with people causing problems. I give massive thanks to everyone who has been working hard to keep our communities safe and clean throughout the coronavirus period. They have done a massive piece of work.
The issue is of huge interest and concern to members across the chamber, as we heard during the debate and in the environment portfolio question time earlier this afternoon. Issues around dirty camping, littering and fly-tipping have been increasingly raised in the media as well as directly with the Scottish Government. A number of questions have rightly been asked of the Government today because we are all concerned about the issue, as are our constituents and communities. Everyone wants the problems to be tackled effectively.
Does the minister agree that the Government bears a large part of the responsibility for the issue? Since 2003, when access rights were, quite rightly, given to everyone, there has been a continued reduction in the amount of money that the Government makes available to local authorities and countryside rangers to deal with the increasing number of visitors. The Government has encouraged people to go to the countryside without realising the impact that that would have on communities. For example—
No, not “for example”. That was a good intervention, but you are starting on another wee speech.
I do not entirely agree that that was a good intervention, Presiding Officer, because it is one that I entirely disagree with. If I have time later, I will address some of the points that Mr Carson made. I also want to come back to some of the important issues that Stewart Stevenson raised.
In my community, there has been increased littering and fly-tipping. We need to think about the mentality of people who think that it is acceptable to do that. How do we prevent that mentality developing in the first place? That is one of the key considerations. It is vital that we do that, because, although we could put all the resources in the world into enforcing the rules, it would be better to prevent that behaviour occurring in the first place. That is an important issue to tackle.
The minister makes an important point. As a youth leader who works with children from deprived areas, I would say that the biggest issue is education. That was mentioned by Liz Smith and Stewart Stevenson. As youngsters, we learned through our outdoor education in scouts, cadets and school, and that provision is being massively eroded. Netherurd in the Borders region is being closed, but it is in such places that we learned how to treat the countryside, how to behave, how to camp, where to walk and not to litter. Will the minister commit to improving funding for outdoor education?
I let you have a long intervention, Ms Ballantyne, because you have been here for the whole debate.
I will come to those points about education as I continue my speech.
Although it might be convenient to categorise all the issues that we have discussed today under the term “dirty camping”, that can be an oversimplification that masks a more complex array of issues, many of which we have covered today. The coronavirus and the long periods of lockdown have had a social impact, but we also need to recognise that many of the issues predated the pandemic, and we need to understand them better if we are going to deal with them.
A generation of people have grown up since the introduction of our groundbreaking access rights, and there is a wider group who appear to have forgotten the specific responsibilities that come with those rights—as Murdo Fraser suggested when he opened this evening’s debate. Some people may not realise what they are doing or are completely ignorant of the wider impact that their actions have. We have to consider those issues against the backdrop of the extraordinary challenges that we have all faced over the past few months and the limitations on leisure, social and recreational activities, particularly in our centres of population, which have coincided with a much-reduced range of options for travel and holidays.
In general terms, we have seen problems from two types of issues. One issue relates to an increased volume of motorised or roadside tourist campers congregating, usually independently, at roadside locations. The capacity of facilities and services is sometimes insufficient to meet the growing demands that are placed on parking and on litter and waste disposal. Although many of those issues are not entirely new, they have been much more acute this year because of the particular combination of circumstances that we have faced during the phased exit from lockdown. The second phenomenon is high-impact party campers, whose activities appear to be focused on alcohol consumption and who often have a complete disregard for the environment and the people and communities that they are affecting.
It is important to stress that reports from those who are managing such issues on the ground confirm that most people are trying to behave responsibly—that point was highlighted by Andy Wightman. We have already made the distinction between wild camping and what is known as dirty camping, which are very different. The latter terminology has recently been adopted to describe the anti-social behaviour, the negative actions and the complete disregard for Scotland’s outdoor access code that are being exhibited by a small minority of individuals when they are irresponsibly accessing Scotland’s countryside and environment. It is vital that we remember that the vast majority of visitors to our countryside are respectful and responsible.
We want people to be outdoors and enjoying our countryside. Beyond that, Scotland’s natural landscape is a vital component of our tourism appeal. Around 50 per cent of our visitors come for our landscape and scenery, and another 23 per cent just want to get away from it all. To achieve a safe and strong recovery for tourism, it is crucial that we maintain our beautiful locations for future visitors. The impact of the pandemic on our tourism sector has been challenging, so the Scottish Government and agencies such as VisitScotland are working hard to share the message of responsible tourism.
I will highlight some of the actions that we have taken because we take the issue very seriously. We are working with the motorhome hire industry, through the Campervan and Motorhome Professional Association, to promote appropriate behaviour among those who hire such vehicles, which includes proper arrangements for waste disposal and driving. To combat the littering issues, we have worked with Zero Waste Scotland and Keep Scotland Beautiful to develop an anti-littering campaign, which includes bespoke materials for 21 local authorities, including Highland Council, and which launched earlier this summer. Through our rural tourism infrastructure fund, we have already committed £9 million to projects across Scotland, and the third round of the fund is currently on-going, with an extra £3 million for 2020, which will help to fund more community toilets, car parks and motorhome facilities. Such facilities are vital—as several members have highlighted, the lack of such facilities is a major issue.
We have also established the Scottish tourism recovery task force, which will assist with the on-going reset of the sector. As I mentioned during portfolio question time, on Monday a national summit will be chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, which will bring together public authorities in an attempt to find solutions to the issues that our communities face.
Finlay Carson mentioned the countryside ranger service and the need for an increase there, and Murdo Fraser highlighted the significant impact of the joint approach that is being taken by countryside rangers and Police Scotland. We are having the summit on Monday because we recognise the issues that exist and how serious they are, and we want to find short, medium and long-term solutions so that we can tackle those issues in a meaningful way.
Will the minister take an intervention?
I am being very light touch, but I am afraid that the minister has already had nine minutes. [Interruption.] Och, well—all right, but it has to be brief, because we want to get home sometime tonight.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
The minister mentioned the summit on Monday, and she spoke about the role of public authorities and the Scottish Government. Can she explain why a number of campsites, including Glenmore campsite in the Cairngorms, are leased on a 75-year lease that will not expire until 2081 to Camping in the Forest LLP, which is based in Coventry? One of the officers on the board is the Forestry Commission.
No, no, no. Oh—
Will the ministers use their powers—
I hope that you heard that sigh.
—to reopen that campsite, which will be shut till April 2021?
I would like to give Mr Wightman a considered answer on the issues that he has raised, so I undertake to write to him with a full response.
My final key point is on education, which was raised by members across the chamber. Stewart Stevenson got to the nub of it and hit the nail on the head with regard to some of the issues that are evident. Andy Wightman, Liz Smith and Jackie Baillie made the same point. Everyone should be aware of the Scottish outdoor access code and the important advice that it gives on how to enjoy access rights responsibly and how to respect the needs of other people and act in a way that keeps everyone healthy and safe.
We already have considerable experience of managing impacts of the type that we are discussing. That is highlighted in the guidance on managing tent-based camping that is produced by the national access forum, which is based on practical experience in busy areas such as Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park.
In addition, we are actively transmitting information to raise awareness of how to behave responsibly. As part of that effort, NatureScot is running a campaign to promote the Scottish outdoor access code, which Emma Harper highlighted. So far, the campaign has had a combined reach of at least 3.5 million on Facebook and Twitter and has driven more than 250,000 visits to the Scottish outdoor access code website. That has been accompanied by the campaigns to encourage responsible camping and combat litter that have been led by VisitScotland and Zero Waste Scotland.
This has, of course, been an extraordinary year, and we are all keen to learn from it in planning for the next one. Although it is understandable that the headlines accentuate the issues, we should not lose sight of the benefits of such outdoor activity. The points that Andy Wightman made in that regard are very important. Most people have behaved responsibly.
We must also recognise the role that the staycation is playing in helping Scotland’s tourism economy back to its feet. Amidst the huge pressures that we, the countryside, communities, landowners and agencies have had to deal with, more people than ever have connected responsibly with the outdoors, enjoyed Scotland and engaged in healthy activity. That is hugely important for our capacity and resilience to deal with the current pandemic and, indeed, any crisis.Meeting closed at 19:13.