As Scotland has opened up, we are getting used to more freedoms than we have had in the past year, including with the travel industry. With holidays abroad remaining challenging due to the traffic light system; many are opting for ‘staycations’ and choosing to have their holiday in Scotland.
With routes like the North Coast 500 becoming more popular and more footfall on the Munros, there has been an unprecedented increase in litter and damage caused to footpaths as people sought respite during lockdown. In Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, the National Trust Scotland reported that there were 70,000 visitors by October 2020. In comparison Ben Lomond would usually receive between 45,000-60,000 visitors a year. There have been reports of queues at the tops of sights like Ben Nevis, as visitors wait to take photographs at the summit.
The unprecedented numbers have caused accidental damage to the landscape. Often, it is damage that visitors to the Munros would not realise that they had caused, such as walking on the edge of paths or off track, in order to comply with social distancing.
If you are taking to the hills or staying in Scotland to take advantage of our stunning scenery, what are the rules you need to know for staying safe and protecting the environment whilst swimming, walking and camping?
Swimming: Assessing the Risks
With the surge in temperature, large numbers have flocked to areas with open water to cool off. Over the last few weeks, there has also been an increase in the reports of accidental deaths from swimming in open water.
Whilst there are no legal rules or regulations strictly against it, a cautious approach must be taken. It is highly recommended that if you have no experience in swimming in cold open water to avoid it because it is very unpredictable.
The majority of us are used to swimming pools with calm water but, in the open there are currents and the change in the tides which can cause unpredictable conditions. As a result of this, a situation can become dangerous very quickly, and with no supervision, the risks are very high.
If choosing to swim in open water, we are encouraged to choose areas that are supervised, including monitored beaches. The use of inflatables should be avoided, especially in open water as there are no boundaries. There is full guidance on this available on the Royal Life Saving Society UK website.[i]
Hill walking: Preserving the Paths
As a massive hillwalking fan myself, I understand the lure of the hills. It is a hobby that I took up years ago, and there are significant mental and physical health benefits to it. Over the last year, I have noticed an increase in traffic on the hills and there are some basic rules we can all follow to help maintain the routes.
The rule of thumb for hillwalking, if you see someone coming down hill towards you, stand safely to the left to allow them to pass. Once they have, return to the path as quickly as possible. If in a group, walk in single file as far as possible, especially on narrow sections. These simple rules help maintain the paths and cause less damage to the greenery.
Importantly, take everything home with you. The National Trust Scotland has reported a significant litter increase. Even items that are biodegradable, such as a fruit peel, can cause damage to the environment, as it is an external element that has been introduced, it can affect the area.
Wild camping: Preserving Nature
First of all, is wild camping legal in Scotland? In short, yes. But, they are rules to be followed.
The Land Reform (Scotland) Act[ii] secures public access rights for unenclosed land in Scotland. Those ‘rights’ include the right to camp. For anyone that wild camps in Scotland, they are required to the follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.[iii] The Code asks that anyone that owns or uses lands, from dog walkers to campers, uses it responsibly. The rules in relation to the Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park are slightly different as in some areas, a permit is required to camp.[iv]
The main points are to camp in small numbers, do not camp near live stock and to camp away from roads and historic areas.
The biggest message: leave no trace. You should leave any area where you stayed looking the same as you found it, including taking all litter with you and no scorch marks on the ground from barbecues or fire pits. The main message is to leave the area in the way you would hope to find it, so that someone else is able to enjoy and have the same experience that you have had.
If camping, always be mindful of the nature and wildlife around you, as you are the one that is stepping into their environment.
Scotland has some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. If you are choosing to explore our country, please make sure that you are looking after it, to protect the unique views and sights for the next generations.
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Blog by Emma Wheelhouse, Solicitor