Camping permits, incompetence and big brother

The Firkin A camping permit area as it looked on Thursday 2nd March – would any right minded camper want to try and camp in this area in this condition? Would it even be possible?
The signs are much smaller than appeared in this mock-up presented to the Board in December

On Thursday, I went climbing near Glen Coe and on the way up and back down the A82 checked out a few things about the west Loch Lomond camping management zone.   I almost missed the sign announcing the start of the zone,  just before Luss, despite looking out for it.  A large proportion of drivers will miss it, let alone  – yet another piece of road clutter – and for those who do manage to read it what does “camping management zone” mean?

 

There’s certainly no information to tell you about the byelaws when you arrive at Firkin Point, one of the Park’s permit areas just south of Tarbert, which came into operation on 1st March.  I had thought one of the few sensible decisions made by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Board since the Your Park consultation has been to open up use of the car park and toilets at Firkin Point for campervans and campers.  Up till now the facilities have been locked for much of the year.   Its not the sort of place I, or I suspect most people, would go for for a weekend but fine for an overnight stop being off the main road.

I was surprised to see  the sign saying the gates will be locked each night is still up and the clock still points to 4.30pm.   How I wondered do campers get in and out?  I discovered when I returned that night to check that the gates weren’t locked – its just no-one had bothered to change the sign.

 

In the car parking area there were no obvious signs about the camping byelaws or telling you where you are “allowed” to camp or park your motorhomes.    The first sign I saw was beyond the car parking area and a very pretty sign it is too.  It points to three areas where you might camp and shows that all the car park spaces are included in the “motorhome” permit area.

The sign clearly says you will be committing an offence if you fail to comply with the camping management byelaws but, apart from saying you need  a permit to camp in the marked areas, fails completely to explain what the byelaws cover.   So, if you are cycling along the cycle path here, you might just think “stuff that” I will just cycle on a bit further to where I don’t need a permit to camp!  Or what is there to tell you that if you collect some dead wood from around the permit area you will be committing a criminal offence?

 

While the camping in the park logo implies that motorhomes might need a permit here, there is nothing to say that this is ONLY required if you are sleeping overnight in a motorhome.  So, pull in here in the day in a  campervan and you might wrongly think you have to leave, because you don’t have a permit. Alternatively,  you might go to the trouble of trying to apply for a permit on-line, and then if you realise permits appear to be just for overnight stays, ringing the National Park number to make doubly sure.

 

A further issue for campervans/motorhomes is that according to the Park Board paper (see chart below) there were just four places for campervans here when there are over  twenty parking spaces.  What is the rationale for this?

 

Taken together what a disastrous message for Scottish tourism.  The LLTNPA has undertaken no assessment of the likely impact of the camping byelaws on tourism (I’ve asked).

Zone B is sloping – the photo is deceptive – as you can see if you compare the height of the two benches.

 

The sign for Firkin permit zone B below the car park.  Each of the camping permit areas at Firkin have been called zones and have their own sign in the Park livery, essential apparently so that Rangers can be employed ensuring you are camping in the area you have booked.  No wonder the signage costed so much.   The Park has apparently allocated two tents to this site but only the corner in the far centre right is flat enough to sleep comfortably in a tent.

Firkin A “zone” is a much larger area which at present seems to allow for three permits.  Though the Park is taking bookings, i.e money from the public, it is in a totally unsuitable state for camping (see top photo and photo below).

 

A nice path – which was there previously – circumvents zone A but the whole site is overrun with scrub and rush.  Who would pay for this?   Anyone booking this I think would be justified in seeking full compensation for a wasted journey from the National Park.  I wonder whether the Park has considered the liability issues now that it is charging for access?   Demand money and you take on new responsibilities and the Park has obviously not undertaken its side of the bargain   It won’t take much for the LLTNPA to be forking out far more in compensation claims than they ever receive from permits.

 

This was the best area I could see for camping in Zone A.   Bumpy and sloping.  Hopeless.  While I am sure the Park could, through managing the vegetation,  create places where it was possible to camp on this site they have not bothered.  What does this mean for the Park’s claim to the Minister that it would have 300 “new” camping places in place by 1st March?  A permit place was never a real camping place which would compensate for the loss of a 1000 places in the Park over the last few years anyway, but the Park appears not to have even checked whether it was possible to camp in the ground it had allocated before 1st March.

 

This google map of Firkin Point from the LLTNPA website has no motorhome symbols on the road coming off the A82 where the Park will allow four campervans/motorhomes to stop.  Instead there is a motorhome symbol to the far right.  This is one A, the one featured in the photos above!.  I can just see vehicles trying to drive uphill through that vegetation!   The LLTNPA’s communication team clearly does not know what it is doing and equally  clearly does not speak to staff implementing the byelaws or vice versa.

 

I  did not visit the permit area on the beach and did not get photos.  I wish I had as I am pretty certain it would have been underwater – its described as a narrow beach and the loch is high – more opportunities I think for compensation claims.   The permit booking system, which the Park has already spent huge amounts of money on, will now I think have to be amended to provide reports on ground conditions not to say daily reports from Rangers to ensure the information is right.   I am not against job creation but this is not I would spend scarce resources.

 

Its the facilities on site though which is what caused me to think this might make this an ok place to camp – a small compensation for all the lost camping places.  I returned Thursday night to check to see if toilets were open and realised I need not have bothered from this sign on the door.  Locked day and night to the end of March.  I checked afterwards and if you read the fine print when going to book a permit it does indicate the toilets are closed for a large part of the year and also that there is no water.  How does this fit though with the LLTNPA claim that Firkin Point a permit area with services!.

Figures presented to the LLTNPA Board. In December the Board did agree Park staff were given delegated authority to vary these so what the figures now allowed at Firkin Point might be is unclear.

For every person coming staying overnight in Firkin Point permit area before the end of March, its quite predictable they will need to have a crap and drink.  I would be more worried drinking from the burn near Firkin than most other areas of the National Park yet the LLTNPA has not even fitted an outside tap for people to use.   To rub salt into the wound, if you didn’t hear him,  Gordon Watson, at the end of the Jeremy Vine show on Wednesday defended the permit system  because “people want a facility with running water”!   (Its at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08fw4cg#play and well worth listening to for the comprehensive criticism directed at the LLTNPA from 1hr 48mins 40 sec).  The Park’s Chief Executive has no shame.

 

The LLTNPA Board paper in December included this statement:

5.11. The permit charge must be affordable. It should also make a contribution towards the costs of managing the permit scheme. Costs include the service provided by the Park to keep locations in good condition.

 

So what sort of service is the Park providing at Firkin Point and what does the permit area there say about the LLTNPA’s current claims to welcome campers?

Just in case you think Firkin Point is an isolated example, here is the sign for the permit area at Inveruglas, just a little further north – the camping area is to the left.

The camping area along the shore.  I could not see a single place suitable for camping

The view from the campervan permit area, the camping area just beyond.

 

What needs to be done?

 

The LLTNPA leadership has been incompetent and Park is obviously in chaos – despite being given an extra year by the Minister to prepare for the byelaws it clearly isn’t prepared and the senior staff team has clearly failed to deliver what it said it would.    I am some sympathy with the new convener though, because you cannot deliver the undeliverable and somehow a change of direction needs to be found, which effectively leads to the byelaws being dropped.

 

Senior Park staff though have already tried to excuse their  failure at the December Board paper and prolong the chaos:

 

The 2017 season provides an opportunity to learn from the experience of running campsites and permit areas within the new Camping Management Zones. Plans set out in the Camping Development Strategy will form the basis of provision for this preliminary season

 

Its now only a preliminary season, the idea being to allow the LLTNPA to dismiss all evidence of its incompetence and the incoherence of the byelaws as teething problems.  They will no doubt during the next six months sort some of them out.  This will probably include the state of the proposed  camping areas and even improvement of some facilities.  I don’t think though they will be able to sort out the signage issues.   1000s of people come to the National Park, have no idea what a camping management zone is, won’t know when they are leaving and don’t know what the offences are.  The byelaws are simply unenforceable and that’s without the complications of the exemptions for people sleeping overnight campervans on the road network.

 

The biggest issue of all that is not going to go away is that of civil liberties and big brother.  The beauty of access rights is its up to you to choose where to camp, and if a place if underwater, boggy or overgrown you will simply look somewhere else.   You are also responsible for your choices.   The LLTNPA wants to take away that choice, it thinks it knows best where people can “wild camp”.     It can’t ever do this, not just because conditions vary but also  because people who camp responsibly are all different:  some like being around others, some want to be far away, some to be on the loch shores, others away from them, some close to a car, some far away.    I am confident that in the end this attempt to remove people’s rights to decide for themselves how best to enjoy the outdoors will fail because its morally repugnant and completely unnecessary.  All the problems associated with irresponsible campers could have already been addressed under the existing criminal law.

 

How long is it going to take before our politicians wake up and realise that have been misled and agreed to what is a terrible mistake?

20 Comments on “Camping permits, incompetence and big brother

  1. Funny how nearly all of the permit places seem unusable for tents its as if they dont really want folk staying there. Are LLTNPA hoping that folk will decide to go to one of the existing commercially operated campsites instead or is that waht they have been planning all along .

    1. The new camping experience spot at lochan reoidhte is a nesting area for common lizards in an area thick with heather .i tried to explain to park authority about the lizards and the fact heather is flammable the response was ; traditionally trampled areas have been included in our program .however this area was not traditionally trampled ,the only trampling of this area was by use of contracter with petrol strimmer upon instructions from (our) park officials .this area is also known for lymes disease transmiting ticks

      1. Stephen, this is very significant. It shows I think that the LLTNPA are causing damage by directing campers to place they would not have camped previously. I will follow this up with the Park.

  2. The National Park management should be made to sample the facilities it has put in place – for an overnight camp.

      1. And, on the other side of the argument, perhaps those moaning about everything could come up every weekend in the height of summer and clear the lochside of burned out tents, empty broken bottles, human excrement and discarded rubbish. I take it you all live locally and are putting up with this nuisance almost daily once the weather turns?

        1. So how will the LLTNPA keeping the toilets locked at Firkin Point until the end of March while inviting people to camp there help? Would you accept that the National Park’s failure to create any basic infrastructure since it was set up (toilets – those planned in 5 Lochs Area have not been delivered, litter bins etc) is part of the problem?

        2. Regarding lochan reoidhte Hello nick my brother sent lizard photos to Scotsman paper 2009 this area is a haven for reptiles at certain times in the year, it is almost impossible to use the road without a virtual frog massacre I have told our park about this and the fact ticks are also rampant in area .traditionally trampled areas have been selected to blah blah your communication has been sent to appropriate authoritie s blah blah

        3. I think what’s being highlighted here goes way beyond a moan, and I don’t think anyone is arguing against getting what you refer to under control, only in the flawed thinking of the LLTNPA who have been advised on many occasions that they are deluding both themselves and communities that they can make any real change through their crazy take your litter home schemes and handing out educational leaflets to those committing anti social behaviour. The Byelaws on the East Shore are far from the success claimed when you consider the vast amount of man power required to enforce them, it’s not sustainable park wide.

          Their policies are damaging the tourism industry and decades of work in portraying Scotland as a World class destination. Their confrontational Ranger Service is now largely reduced to no more than parking warden and community policing duties. Rangers should be seen and not heard unless you are in need of help or are involved in one of their more traditional activities involving nature and wildlife education.

          It is also clear if the National Park had fulfilled the provision of 300 camping spaces these posts would not be getting written but not only have they dramatically fail to do so they are telling blatant lies that everything has been delivered. It is therefore inevitable when anyone pays for a holiday and gets done over by the LLTNPA they are not going to be happy.

  3. Even worse than anticipated. They have failed totally to meet their responsibilities to provide the three hundred camping spaces attached as a condition if implementing these byelaws, I believe the Loch Chon site has not been completed (4th March 2017) This despite assurances given to the Strathard community at last weeks meeting.

    1. Alan, no – but it was 7.30-8.30am and probably too early and then on return it was after dark. I doubt patrols will be that frequent till Easter anyway. The Park knows very few people camp in March, except in the years Easter falls in the month, and even then numbers are small. I might be wrong. I might be wrong though, they might want to set an example of someone early on in the hope this makes the byelaws easier to enforce in the summer.

  4. one of the best wrote pieces of work I have read, so well wrote and informative, but I am now more confused by the whole scheme, is it worth my time visiting if I am for ever confused by the laws and its enforcement ,I cant see any enjoyment in camping if your looking over your shoulder,

  5. Just been threatened with 500 pound fines for staying in my small Vw camper at the side of loch voil been catching nice pike and really annoyed

    1. Stephen, though north side of Loch Voil in camping management zone, the byelaws in respect of campervans ONLY make it an offence if you sleep overnight in your campervan OFF the road (which includes its verge). So, if it was Park Rangers who approached you and you were awake, they could do absolutely nothing – the offence is to sleep overnight so its fine to take your campervan off the road to fish (common sense applies on where sensible to do this)and if you took the campervan back onto the verge of the road to sleep that would be quite legal. Did the Park Rangers tell you your rights and where you could stay in a campervan or did they just tell you to move away completely? If the latter, that was wrong and you have a right to complain. Nick

      1. The ranger was showing of to the new girl ranger here’s how it went
        Me ;hello
        Ranger;is this your vehicle
        Me ;yes
        Ranger ;are you just up for today
        Me;no I was going to stay the night
        Ranger;you will have seen the signs and here is the map
        Me ;so where can I go
        Female ranger I don’t know it’s my first day.
        Ranger ;the nearest point from here lay by at loch earn you will be gone before I come back in the morning .he said the verge is the road ?
        This happened when I was alone a Tuesday not one other person on whole loch I’m forty odd years old and have been spoken to like some misbehaving child to not return a hello is a discrace ,I have been going to this spot since young with parents tidy up when arrive and leaving I have seen massive groups having party’s and police /rangers drive by far easier to pick on small groups .on one occasion at loch venacher the police stopped a group causing trouble mid afternoon picnic table covered in drink we thought yes they will move them on ,well think again stood had a bit of a laugh then drove away you could not make it up .

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