Rise in fly-camping and campervan numbers puts nature at risk 

An unprecedented rise in discarded equipment and litter being left behind by fly-campers is diverting attention away from vital conservation work, say National Trust rangers

Horse Close, Buttermere, Lake District.

As restrictions on lockdown ease in England, tourist hot spots including the Peak District and the Lake District have seen a significant rise in the number of people camping and campervanning at beauty spots without permission.

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As a result, National Trust rangers are spending an estimated fifth of their time cleaning up debris and litter left behind, leaving less time to undertake important conservation work.

“We have seen a huge increase in the number of people fly-camping at our places over the past few weeks, and they are leaving not only vast quantities of litter behind, but in some instances tents and much of their equipment,” said Head of Nature Conservation and Restoration at the National Trust Ben McCarthy.

Campervans at Buttermere, Lake District
Campervans at Buttermere, Lake District
National Trust

“We are seeing a disposable festival mentality which we’ve not experienced at our places before.

“Some campers are also lighting campfires which can cause big problems, especially with the land still being very dry despite recent rainfall.  Campfires should not be lit at any of our countryside or coastal locations.  Fires can easily get out of control and this could have a massive impact on wildlife and landscapes.

“We know one of the few positives of lockdown has been the rise in visitors enjoying the outdoors, nature and the countryside.  And while we want to do all we can to encourage more people to spend time in nature, we all have a responsibility to leave places as we found them  – for other people but also for the sake of nature itself. We want to remind people to follow the countryside code and that they should only camp overnight with a landowner’s permission.”

National Trust rangers clearing up rubbish left by campers at Ullswater in the Lake District
National Trust rangers clearing up rubbish left by campers at Ullswater in the Lake District
Steve Dowson

The Trust are urging the public not to camp without landowner’s permission, to leave no trace and to respect the countryside and other visitors.

In June, 170 large bags of rubbish were collected over just three days in Dovedale (Peak District), while in recent weeks the beauty spot has been cleared of 25 tents, 20 camping chairs, six air beds and several BBQs.

“The volume of debris left behind is overwhelming and something we’ve not experienced before.  After people have finished having fun it’s like they abandon ship.  What they couldn’t be bothered to carry out they just left for someone else to clean up,” said Longshaw Area Ranger Chris Millner.

Rangers clearing up after fly-campers in the Peak District
Rangers clearing up after fly-campers in the Peak District
National Trust

In the Lake District, 118 illegally parked campervans were recorded in just one night at Buttemere, with additional anti-social fly-camping – including lighting fires, damaging trees and littering ­– occurring on lakeshores.

Area Ranger of Grasmere & Great Langdale Neil Winder said: “We’re pleased to be able to welcome back holiday makers to the Lake District, but it’s not yet business as usual while we gradually reopen with the safety of our guests, staff and volunteers in mind.

“We encourage visitors to plan and book their accommodation in advance as we are experiencing unprecedented demand.  Some Lake District hotspots simply cannot sustain the numbers of visitors turning up with nowhere to legally camp overnight.”

Abandoned campsite at Longshaw in the Peak District
Abandoned campsite at Longshaw in the Peak District
National Trust

Lead Ranger along the north Cornish coastline Steve Sudworth added: “Overnight camping numbers in cars, vans and tents are continuing to increase across our sites and car parks on the North coast, causing significant issues to the area and visitors.

“The overnighters are frequently leaving human waste, used toilet tissue, BBQs and other litter across the beautiful countryside they have themselves come to enjoy. This is damaging these landscapes and spoiling them for everyone whilst causing a health hazard in already challenging times.

“We urge people to treat the countryside with respect, please only stay overnight at authorised sites, take your rubbish home with you when you visit and do not go to the toilet where there are no facilities.”

Camping illegally on the Cornish coast
Camping illegally on the Cornish coast
National Trust

Head of Rangers at the National Trust Rob Rhodes said: “Due to lockdown we haven’t been able to get on with conservation work and many of our rangers who have returned to their posts over the past few weeks are champing at the bit to get on and start to clear the backlog.

“The sort of work we want to be doing at this time of year includes managing our flower rich meadows and caring for the wildlife that live there, and vital maintenance work to our network of paths and visitor routes.

“But this unsociable behaviour by some is taking up so much time that it’s affecting not only on the upkeep of our sites, but taking our staff away from vital conservation work and engaging with visitors.  Leaving debris and litter behind can cause issues for wildlife such as injuring animals and destroying habitats.

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“No one should have to clear up the mess that we are experiencing at some of our places.”