Everything you need to know about wild camping rules in the UK - and whether it's safe

Wild camping laws differ between Scotland, England and Wales (Photo: Shutterstock)Wild camping laws differ between Scotland, England and Wales (Photo: Shutterstock)
Wild camping laws differ between Scotland, England and Wales (Photo: Shutterstock)

With many UK residents putting foreign holiday plans on the back-burner, some are considering their options for a domestic trip away.

Self-contained accommodation, along with campsites and caravan parks, opened in England at the start of July, with the other nations of the UK soon to follow suit.

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Bookings have reportedly come in thick and fast from Brits desperate to get away after several months in lockdown.

But if you've not managed to get something organised, or simply want a break away from the hustle and bustle of a busy campsite or tourist town, wild camping may be an option for a Covid-safe trip.

What is wild camping?

Wild camping is simply camping out in the wilderness, away from campsites and caravan sites. It can be a great chance to spend time among nature, in some of Britain's most beautiful areas.

However, while this may sound like you can pitch up your tent anywhere, there are specific official and unofficial rules which apply to wild camping in the UK.

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Where is wild camping allowed?

Scottish right-to-roam laws mean that you can wild camp almost anywhere in the country, as long as you are respectful and follow the Outdoor Access Code. Of course, this does not apply to certain kinds of land such as private gardens, farmed land, golf courses and so on.

Wild camping laws vary in England and Wales, with the practice being illegal in most places. Dartmoor is one exception, with certain areas where wild camping is legal.

However, wild camping is generally possible where permission has been sought from the landowner.

In some places, local authorities have put together lists of farmers and landowners who have traditionally allowed wild camping on their land.

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In Wales' Brecon Beacons, for instance, the National Park Authority has put together list of landowners and farmers who are generally happy to allow wild camping with permission.

Most landowners will be open to the idea, as long as you treat the land with respect and don't leave rubbish or damage behind when you leave.

What are the rules for wild camping?

If you're wild camping in Scotland, you should follow the Outdoor Access Code.

The Land Reform Act for Scotland states that wild camping should be "lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place".

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Wild camping in some areas of Scotland - such as at Loch Lomond - requires a permit, so before you head out, make sure to check rules for the area you're travelling to carefully.

The access rights granted to campers in Scotland do not extend to motorised vehicles, meaning it doesn't apply to camping in motorhomes, vans or campervans.

With regards to parking at your destination, The Scottish Outdoor Access Code lays out some rules to follow:

  • You must not lock an entrance to a field or building
  • You must not make it difficult for people to use a road or track
  • You must have regard for the safety of others
  • You must avoid damaging the verge

If there is a car park nearby, you are expected to use this. If one is not available, you should park on hard ground or a metalled area - it is better to walk to your car than drive to your tent.

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Otherwise, there are a number of unofficial rules to follow when you go camping to avoid damage, keep landowners happy and keep the landscape clean for yourself and others.

You can be courteous by arriving late in the day and leaving early the next morning, to avoid being tripped over by farmers or walkers.

You should avoid camping in large groups that might cause disruption to the land.

Don't light any fires unless you're certain that doing so is safe and legal - these could get out of hand.

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Always camp on high ground and keep your site discreet to avoid spoiling views for other tourists.

If you need to defecate, you should do so as far away from a water source as possible, in a hole in the ground which you should cover once you've finished. Similarly, you should urinate as far away from water sources as possible.

Most importantly of all, leave no trace - meaning you should take all your rubbish and debris with you when you leave.

What should I take with me?

Other than the obvious necessities of a tent, camping mat and sleeping bag, there are a few essential things it would be advisable to bring on your trip. These include:

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  • Camping cooking equipment such as a thermal flask, stove and cutlery
  • Sufficient food and water to last the duration of the trip
  • Warm, waterproof clothing with sturdy walking boots
  • A small personal shovel for personal waste
  • A compass, map or GPS to help you find your way
  • Spare socks

Is it safe to wild camp?

So long as you have the right equipment, sufficient food and water and choose your site carefully, wild camping is perfectly safe.

You should choose an area that's flat as possible for pitching your tent, as well as checking it's fairly dry. If you pitch up near a river, you'll need to be sure it's not somewhere that a flash flood could happen In windy weather, try to find a spot with some shelter.

However, you should try to avoid camping beneath trees if there's a possibility of strong winds bringing branches down.

In terms of coronavirus, wild camping is possibly one of the safest options for a break away, as you'll generally be very far away from other people.

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