With the exception of Scotland and the common land on Dartmoor, there is no legal right to camp in the uplands of England and Wales. Large areas of the national parks are designated as open access land and although the 'right to roam' applies, there is no right to camp. All land is privately owned, and legally camping requires permission from the landowner.
However, there is a long tradition of wild camping in the mountains where it is usually impractical to obtain permission. It has been widely tolerated by land owners, providing it is undertaken responsibly.
Wild campers take their responsibilities very seriously and show respect for the environment and others. That means choosing a secluded place to pitch high up in the hills, arriving late and leaving early, and leaving no trace - no fires, no litter, no damage to the environment.
As the old saying goes, "Take only pictures, leave only footprints".
Until recently the Lake District National Park Authority was happy to endorse wild camping as an adventurous activity. Here is the opening paragraph of their pre-lockdown web page describing wild camping -
"Wild camping in the Lake District is certainly an experience you don't want to miss, head out into the real wilderness of the National Park and explore the truly undiscovered areas of beauty. Pitch your tent and relax amongst the sights and sounds of nature with a Lake District wild camping experience to remember."
That page has since been updated, and now begins "Wild camping is not permitted anywhere in the Lake District without prior permission from the landowner". Sadly, that change has been in response to the irresponsible behaviour of some people as Covid-19 lockdown restrictions were lifted.
This Guardian article describes an abandoned camp in Kielder Forest which was strewn with broken tents, chairs, bottles, rubbish and waste. Similar stories have been emerging from other national parks including The Lake District. Unfortunately the term 'Wild Camping' has been widely, and wrongly, used to describe this type of activity.
In order to preserve what has been traditionally understood by wild camping the National Trust have been using 'Fly Camping' to describe the type of irresponsible camping seen recently. North of the border Mountaineering Scotland have been referring to "Dirty Camping". Whatever terminology proves most popular, it's really important to have a clear and general understanding of what wild camping is, and what it is not.
The distinction was summed up perfectly by Jennifer Watson, a Forestry England ranger involved in the Kielder clear-up operation. In the Guardian article she said -
“We were quite happy when the people coming to camp were proper backpackers, who leave no trace, but at the moment we’re seeing an increase in campers who don’t know how to respect the countryside.”
Cumbria Police also released a statement on 21st July 2020 which includes this -
"Camping on the Lake District fells (and England generally) is not expressly permitted in law without landowners’ permission, but responsible hill walkers who leave no trace after staying overnight on the high fells (known as wild camping) have long been tolerated as part of outdoor adventure in upland areas of the country. A number of bye-laws are in place to deal with any problematic camping." Assistant Chief Constable Andrew Slattery went on to say, "The anti-social camping that we have seen in recent months across the Lake District does not adhere to the long established Wild Camping ethos of responsible hill walkers in the UK and we will work with landowners and other agencies to prevent and deter this type of unreasonable behaviour."
Camp 404 is all about introducing more people to wild camping and we emphasise the responsibilities that go with it. Wild campers rely on the tradition of goodwill and tolerance of land owners and we are totally committed to preserving and respecting those relationships and the environment we love.