Feeling in-tent-sly let down!

This afternoon the Government released its response to the petition, on the Prime Minister’s own website, for wild camping to be legalised in England and Wales.

Guess what? The government is going to do nothing.

Ho hum.

Let’s have a look at what the Government says, bit by bit. Along the way, purely for the sake of interest, I’ll compare it with the response I received from Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, via my local Tory MP, David Curry, way back in February.

“This Government appreciates 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,” says the Government today.

Compare that to what Mr Benn said in February: “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.”

Spot the similarity? There’s more…

Continuing with today’s Government statement: “The Land Reform Act in Scotland allows for wild camping, but the land issues and the legislation in England are somewhat different. The introduction of wild camping in England would be a controversial issue, which would require both significant consultation and legislative change.

“On open access land wild camping is prohibited under Schedule 2 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which lists all restricted activities. Therefore, new Regulations would be required to exclude wild camping as a restricted activity. Any change to the current rules on wild camping in National Parks and Ministry of Defence land would require new primary legislation.

“The Government has no plans to allocate the necessary resources to consider proposals for such legislation at present, and is concentrating on following up the successful introduction of 750,000 hectares of open access land with new legislation on access to the coast in the Marine Bill, which is currently going through Parliament.”

And here’s Mr Benn in February: “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.”

Hardly any meaningful change at all, really, despite the fact that more than 2000 people signed the petition, though Mr Benn was at least more concise in February.

No-one’s going to be very grateful to the Government for pointing out such facts as: “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.”

Is this why we signed the petition? To be told facts we already know and are asking to be changed?

I’m neither surprised nor disappointed to be told that wild camping in England ain’t gonna happen. I’m disappointed that what the petition process should symbolise – a bit of free speech, the chance for the electorate to make its voice heard – is shown to be nothing more than a sop, a place where folk can let off steam and just be fobbed off, in the expectation that they’ll go away somewhat satisfied to have asked, and behave themselves happily ever after. Long as it’s not in a tent!

Yes, call me naive, I had thought at one stage that a minister might take some notice.

Anyway, I’ll let off the steam here instead.

What the petition was asking was for legislation to give us the right to wild camp. The Government’s response is to tell us we can’t have the right to wild camp because it’d need legislation. Duh?

I now know what my mother meant by the phrase “banging her head against a brick wall” when she asked me to tidy my bedroom all those years ago.

Isn’t the whole purpose of Gordon Brown’s on-line petitions to allow people – voters – to indicate that they want change?

Way back, when Mr Benn responded in February, it was clear that the Government wasn’t going to take any notice of the petition and despite the scores who signed up after that, the government’s attitude hasn’t changed.

Fair enough, they have more important things to think about, like the price of fuel, war in Iraq and Afghanistan, increased industrial action at home, and the EU Treaty.

And, like some experienced, long-in-the-tooth backpackers have pointed out, we’re very rarely prevented from backpacking anyway.

But my experience of this petition, this little bit of free speech, this sampling of democracy, doesn’t leave me feeling as though my voice, or those of the 2000+ others who signed the petition, means a lot to those I voted into power back in the day.

I’ll be watching Darren’s website for his own response, and to see what he plans to do next.

But I suspect this will be the last time I bother with the Government’s on-line petition process, at least until I sense that someone might be listening with open ears.

John Manning

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

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