Wild Camping in the UK Explained

There are many ways to camp in the UK, from pitching up on one of our Club Sites to enjoying a glamping retreat in the likes of our Ready Camp tents. Wild camping is an increasingly talked about topic, but much of what you read online is based on camping in the US where there’s a lot more space and a fair bit less regulation. Here we explain the rules and legislation for those camping in the UK, so you can make informed camping choices.

Wild-camping-backpacker

What is wild camping?

Wild camping takes you away from conventional campsites and, in essence, allows you to choose where you spend the night. Wild camping is all about exploring new areas of the UK and enjoying vast, open spaces or cosy hideaways, away from people and the busyness of everyday life.

Not only is wild camping popular with backpackers and tent campers, but campervans, motorhomes and caravans are getting in on the act too. Wild camping is gaining popularity online, with social media influencers across the world leading the trend.

It’s important to remember, though, that where wild camping is permitted (such as in Scotland), the permission is only for tent campers who arrive on foot, by boat or bike. The regulations don’t permit camping in a campervan, motorhome or caravan.

Is wild camping legal in the UK?

The answer to this question is complex, but it helps to understand the laws that are in place to ensure you’re following along. The first legislation to control camping activity in the UK was introduced in 1936 as part of the Public Health Act, which was later accompanied by the Caravan Sites Control of Development Act in 1960. Today, any campsite operator, including the Club, must adhere to a set of rules, with these two primary pieces of legislation at their heart.

Wild camping in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

So, what’s the law on wild camping in England, Wales and Northern Ireland? The Countryside and Rights of Way Act allows the public to access land mapped as ‘open country’ in England and Wales, along with registered common land, for leisure purposes. This covers much of the mountains, moor, heath and downs. The same Act makes it clear that camping is prohibited, so technically wild camping is illegal in England and Wales. The same is true in Northern Ireland.

However, with the landowner’s permission, you can camp on land that’s not an official campsite. If you’re respectful of property and don’t make a nuisance of yourself, you may find the landowner will be accommodating. If you don’t seek the landowner’s permission and decide to spend the night anyway, you will be trespassing which falls under civil law.

There is one exception to the wild camping ban in England and that’s on parts of Dartmoor in Devon in the National Park. If you’re happy using a small, lightweight tent and carrying everything in a backpack, then check out the interactive camping map on the Dartmoor National Park website to see where you can stop overnight. And you must stick to the Backpack Camping Code.

Wild camping in Scotland

The law in Scotland is different. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 established public access rights to most land and inland water and it permits camping on unenclosed land. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code was created to clarify what is and is not allowed. There are limits to this, you can’t camp anywhere for example, which is a common misconception, and there are a general set of rules to follow covering such things as lighting fires, toilet waste and litter. Again, the Scottish Outdoor Access code provides a useful guide about this.

Wherever you choose to camp, there are also unwritten rules with respect to those around you and the environment. In essence, you need to be a responsible camper.

And it’s important to remember this still only applies to tent camping, not campervans, motorhomes or caravans. One exception to this rule is in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, where Camping Management Byelaws were introduced in 2017, along with camping management zones which include permit areas. A camping permit allows you to camp anywhere within the permit area, and there are areas where permits apply for tents only, for motorhomes or campervans only, and for both tents and motorhomes or campervans. Find out more a here.

Rules for wild camping in Scotland

While we would prefer you stay on dedicated campsites that have all the facilities you need, if you choose to go wild camping in Scotland please do so responsibly and be respectful of the rules. Here are a few guidelines, specifically relating to Scotland. We recommend you do your own research before heading out, and if you ever have a doubt on whether you can camp in a specific spot, our recommendation is to not risk it – and book on to a campsite instead.

  1. You must arrive under your own steam, whether on foot, by water or a bicycle
  2. You must not be camping as part of an organised group
  3. Two or three nights is the maximum amount of time you should stay in one place
  4. If you are asked to move on, you should do so
  5. You must obey any signs that indicate camping is prohibited in an area
  6. You must seek the landowner’s permission to camp on enclosed private land
  7. Leave no trace. Wherever you go wild camping, you should leave the area in the same condition you found it.
  8. Forgo campfires. It might seem like part of the wild camping experience, but fires are damaging and dangerous to not only your surroundings but can pose a threat to you too.

Visit Scotland has launched a responsible tourism campaign with a range of helpful information. It has also produced short, informative videos aimed at motorhomers and caravanners here, and tent campers on this link.

Wild camping in the Lake District

The Lake District is one of the most popular National Parks in the UK, and for that reason, it’s often asked whether wild camping is permitted. Unless you have permission from a landowner, or you’re staying on a dedicated campsite, you mustn’t stay overnight anywhere in the Lake District. You can read more about camping in the Lake District on the Lake District National Park Authority website.

Camping on our Club Sites allows you to access some of the best beauty spots across the UK, with all of the facilities and amenities you need within easy reach.