Wild camping – “no way”, says Benn

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Sorry to bear the bearer of bad tidings, but it seems the government doesn’t intend to do anything about the growing call to legitimise wild camping in England and Wales.

You already know about ““Weird” Darren Christie’s online petition encouraging the government to give backpackers in E&W the same right to responsible wild camping that our counterparts in Scotland already enjoy.

Though Darren’s petition doesn’t reach its “use-by date” until May, the government has already poured cold water on the campaign. Which rather brings into question the validity of e-petitions on the Prime Minister’s own website.

As the campaign got underway just a few weeks ago, I wrote to my local MP, Tory David Curry, asking him to raise the matter with the government.

This he did, and very quickly.

Sadly, this morning, I received a letter from him with which he enclosed the response he’d had from Secretary of State for the Environment, Hilary Benn.

I’ll cut the crap and reproduce the meat of what the Rt Hon Mr Benn MP had to say.

“I do appreciate what Mr Manning says about the potential benefits of wild camping in England and its attractiveness to campers who already have the opportunity to camp in the wild in Scotland.

“The Land Reform Act in Scotland allows for wild camping, but the circumstances and legislation in England are somewhat different. Wild camping is prohibited under Schedule 2 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which lists the activities that are restricted on open access land. Any change to the current rules would require the introduction of new primary legislation. This would mean a lengthy and resource-intensive process, and the Government has no plans to introduce such legislation at present.”

In other words, it’s too much trouble.

So where does the campaign go from here? Well, I know there are plans to leaflet potential supporters at the Outdoor Show at Birmingham’s NEC in March – if you can help, or if you can suggest sympathetic exhibitors who might help distribute the leaflets, step forth.

But where will that get us? As it stands, the leaflet will encourage folk to add their names to the petition, which has just burst the 600-signature mark (well done guys!).

But from Mr Benn’s response, it’s clear that either he’s unaware of the support the petition has already drawn, or that the government simply doesn’t give a flying fence post about the fact that those of us who live and backpack south of the Border are denied the basic right to wake to the sound of birdsong, the sight of a rising sun, and the bite of swarming midges on a sodden heather moor.

What, then, is the point of adding your name to a petition the government is blatantly ignoring? Plenty. Simply put, it just ain’t big enough YET.  The bigger the list of names, the harder and harder it’ll get for them to ignore it.

But don’t stop there. Write to your own MP. Pester them. Make them earn that last expenses chitty we forked out for. Write to the bigwigs in every walking group you’re a member of – the Ramblers’ Association, the British Mountaineering Council, the Backpackers’ Club, the Long Distance Walkers’ Association – write to the outdoor mags’ letters pages – TGO, Trail, Adventure Travel, OE, Country Walking, Lakeland Walker, Strider, Walk, Outdoor Pursuits, BBC Countryfile and all the others – and get your hiking pals to do likewise.

Make them aware that this error in the CROW Act needs righting. Don’t let the campaign grow silent – make some noise!

I’d be interested to know whether anyone else has already had a reply from their MP – and whether I’ve received a stock response, or whether it’s the first Mr Benn has heard of this.

John Manning

Freelance outdoor writer John Manning and his family are based in the Yorkshire Dales

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