POLICE alongside partner agencies including the Lake District National Park Authority, United Utilities and the National Trust are working together in a joint operation to tackle anti-social behaviour that has been associated with camping during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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.
In recent weeks, there has been a large increase in the numbers of campers and campervans on private land in the Lake District National Park and unfortunately this has often been associated with the dumping of equipment, littering, fires and criminal damage to trees and fences. This unacceptable and anti-social behaviour has typically taken place on roadsides and lakeshores but has occasionally been experienced higher on the fells.
Partners will be carrying out joint patrols throughout the national park over the summer holiday period, aimed at preventing the setting of fires and damage to the environment.
Assistant Chief Constable Andrew Slattery said: “All public agencies in Cumbria welcome the return of visitors to the Lake District and encourage all those who seek to explore the area responsibly. Camp sites are now open across the national park and we encourage visitors to book pitches ahead of their visits.
“The Lake District has a history of tolerance and is a welcoming place for visitors but we must maintain a balance between the wishes of individuals to enjoy the outdoors, the needs of local communities and the fragility of our landscapes. The impact of individual actions may seem relatively inconsequential but visitors are asked to consider the cumulative effect of their activities, whether it is fires, barbecues, littering, camping, parking, off-road driving or any other activity that could be detrimental the place and those who live and visit here.
“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.
“Having worked closely together throughout the pandemic, the Constabulary and its partners will continue to maintain efforts to protect and preserve the unique Lake District environment. We will not tolerate the damage or destruction of Lakeland habitats or heritage and will take robust action where necessary.”
Caroline Holden, Land Agent at United Utilities, added: “The reservoir catchment land at Thirlmere and Haweswater acts as the first stage of the treatment process for the clean drinking water we all rely on. If trees are destroyed and human waste and litter are left discarded it all has the potential to pollute our precious water resources, as well as being unsightly and dangerous for those enjoying the countryside.
“We welcome courteous day visitors but camping is not permitted. All we ask is that people follow the countryside code – cause no damage and leave nothing behind.”
Partnership working has been back at its best after a joint response following reports of illegal campers and anti-social behaviour in Kielder.
Due to ongoing disorder and damage, Forestry England has temporarily closed wild camping at the four remote backpacking sites for the remainder of this year to ensure the protection of both land and wildlife.
Camping at established sites such as the Kielder Campsite is still allowed; this is so those visiting the area can be given proper advice and guidance when camping and also ensures the safety of the public and the local land.
However, reports are still coming in detailing a small minority of people ignoring restrictions and not only camping illegally but also damaging the surrounding area and leaving trails of litter and waste.
These also follow similar incidents where anti-social behaviour has been reported to police including excessive and underage drinking in rural communities and off-road motorbike disorder.
Neighbourhood Sergeant Kate Benson, of Northumbria Police, has warned of the response those found to be involved in any criminality can expect.
Sgt Benson said: “We have been working alongside Forestry England to tackle ongoing issues around anti-social behaviour.
“We have stepped up patrols in the area and have been carrying out positive roadside checks and if we find anyone camping illegally or taking part in any sort of disorder then they will be moved on or dealt with.
“Kielder is an incredibly beautiful place that is enjoyed by residents and tourists throughout the year and deserves to be treated with respect. It is not acceptable for individuals to behave in this way, destroying the environment and leaving rubbish littered throughout the forest.
“We are committed to working with our partners to clampdown on this kind of activity so we can preserve the local environment and continue to make it enjoyable for all.”
Alex MacLennan, Forestry England, Recreation Public Affairs Manager Northumberland, explains: “The latest example of illegal camping last weekend shows exactly the sort of issues we are all facing at present in Kielder.
“Last week we made the difficult decision to cease allowing camping at the four remote backpacking sites for the remainder of this year and yet we still had people set up camp in a protected area, which is a special site of scientific interest and a formal conservation designation for habitats.
“We want people to come and enjoy the Northumberland countryside and get outdoors, but in collaboration with land managers across the county we urge everyone to support rural campsites, such as Kielder Campsite, and contribute to the rural tourism economy.
“It is not acceptable to come into the countryside and leave mess for others to clean up, damage the forest and also as in some incidents, damage protected habitats or put additional strain on emergency services.
“We will continue to work closely with Northumbria Police in partnership and other agencies and land managers on these and other issues.”