Engagement exercise: access and irresponsible camping
We Asked, You Said, We Did
Access and camping in the Pentland Hills Regional Park: engagement exercise Nov-Dec 2020
In November 2020 Pentland Hills Regional Park (PHRP) ran a public engagement exercise looking at issues around antisocial behaviour and parking and how these could be solved. This exercise was filled out online by 1872 respondents, with several separate submissions coming in different formats from organisations. Percentages below do not include these separate submissions.
Questions were asked along four main themes: parking / path access facilities, camping facilities, provision of toilet facilities and charging for car parking. The results of the exercise were discussed at the PHRP joint committee, where papers were produced for perusal by elected members and the public in the context of an application to Visit Scotland’s Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund (RTIF). These papers can be viewed here.
You can download a summary of the results of the public engagement exercise showing exact results per question (but no comments).
Parking / path access facilities
We asked questions about issues with parking provision at each of our four main car parks (Harlaw, Threipmuir, Bonaly and Flotterstone). We outlined proposals to improve car parking facilities, including provision of more spaces, better delineation of car parking, improved access for non-vehicle users in the immediate vicinity of car parks and introduction of park-and-ride facilities.
A majority of respondents had experienced parking issues at all car parks except Bonaly. 67% of respondents agreed with proposals to improve car parks. 78.5% of respondents would not use a park-and-ride facility from Hermiston, Ingliston or Straiton. 63% of respondents said they would use a path rather than a vehicle if more path links could be created. There were 1,236 individual comments about proposals.
Proposals to improve car parking were submitted to the Visit Scotland RTIF scheme and we are waiting to hear the outcome of a final grant review process. A funding bid to the NatureScot Better Places scheme was successful for Edinburgh and Lothian Greenspace Trust to produce a Visitor plan for the PHRP which will report on all the measures considered to mitigate the negative impact of tourism at these 4 pressure points. Proposals were submitted to the PHRP Joint Committee in January 2021, which included the restructuring of Bonaly car park (upper) to utilise recently purchased land, limited internal expansion at Flotterstone and expansion at Harlaw and Threipmuir. We are actively investigating improvement of path access at Harlaw, Bonaly and Flotterstone. See this PDF download for more information about car park improvement proposals as presented to and agreed by the Joint Committee.
You can watch the PHRP Joint Committee discussion on improvement of car park facilities.
See this PDF download for more information about sustainable transport and active travel proposals as presented to and agreed by the PHRP Joint Committee.
You can watch the Joint Committee discussion on sustainable travel.
We outlined a proposal to create a new Warden position at Harlaw, running an eco-campsite and using existing Park Management Rules to prevent camping in other areas around Harlaw Reservoir. We asked if you thought this would be a viable solution to anti-social camping behaviour.
There were 1,855 responses to this question. 51.8% agreed with the proposal, with 28.2% unsure and 19.1% against it. There were 1,067 comments received.
A grant funding to create an eco-campsite was submitted to the Visit Scotland RTIF scheme and was unsuccessful. Proposals were presented in a report to the PHRP Joint Committee where it was agreed they should continue to be investigated: see this PDF download for more information on the eco-campsite proposals as presented to and agreed by the Joint Committee.
You can watch the Joint Committee discussion on camping.
We outlined a proposal to provide stand-alone zero-discharge toilets at the four car park sites plus the proposed Harlaw eco-campsite. These toilets would fund their ongoing costs by a small charge at the door. We asked how much you would be willing to pay to use such toilets.
A majority said they would be willing to pay around 50p. There were 955 comments on these proposals.
In March 2020, the outbreak of COVID-19 led to the closure of all Council owned public conveniences. In the PHRP, the toilet facilities at Flotterstone are tied in with the opening hours of the Coffee shop, which has been allowed to re-open by Midlothian Council following a review of their risk assessment and cleaning methods. Since May 2020, the City of Edinburgh Council Policy and Sustainability Committee approved the opening of seven public conveniences across the city, with appropriate measures introduced to maintain public health and in accordance with Scottish Government guidelines - Harlaw House was not short-listed.
See this PDF download of the latest update on the re-opening of public conveniences by CEC as presented to the CEC Policy and Sustainability Committee:
You can watch the Committee discussion on the reopening of public conveniences for CEC.
The PHRP team submitted a grant funding application for provision of new toilet facilities at the four principal car parks in the Pentland Hills and the Harlaw eco-campsite to the Visit Scotland RTIF fund.
Charging at car parks
We outlined proposals to charge at four principal car parks and asked if you would support car parking charges. We also asked if you would support an annual charging scheme and whether you would support funds from these charges going towards regional park infrastructure such as car park and path improvement.
There were 1,864 respondents to the question about whether there should be car parking charges introduced at the four principle car parks in the regional park. 66.3% in total agreed or strongly agreed that there should be car parking charges. 51.5% supported an annual charging scheme. 84.8% agreed that funds should go towards regional park infrastructure.
We are investigating options for charging at the four principle car parks including looking at the practicalities of creating an annual charging scheme and where the maximum amount of revenue would be reinvested back into the regional park. We will work closely with relevant Transport / Roads Committees / Services to ensure that surrounding roads are adequately covered by parking restrictions such as double-yellow lines or clearways. Proposals were submitted to the PHRP Joint Committee in January 2021 where elected members supported the introduction of parking charges at the 4 principal car parks. See this PDF download for more information about car park charging as presented to and agreed by the PHRP Joint Committee:
You can view the PHRP Joint Committee discussion about charging at car parks.
There was a huge response to our engagement exercise, with many, many comments. A selection of these have been outlined below. They are organised in the same way as the reports which were presented to the PHRP Joint Committee.
Camping proposals – comments
Question 14 asked for your comments with regards to the creation of a new Warden position with associated eco-campsite as a viable solution to anti-social camping behaviour. There were 1,067 responses to this part of the question which can be grouped in 8 different themes:
Theme 1: Recognition for the need to manage the camping at Harlaw reservoir after the abuse of the site, the impact on the environment and recreational use of other user groups
“Fully support any measure to discourage anti-social camping like that which has been seen over this past summer.”
“Poss the best solution. Responsible wild campers will have been put off this location for some time and know of alternatives. Problem at Bonaly Reservoir too?”
“Whilst I’m not in favour of camping within our hills, by implementing a warden to overlook an ‘eco campsite’, surely this will be more favourable to the anti-social behaviour which has been going on recently.”
“It’s a shame that it has come to this as I have some concerns that a formal camping area would still be abused & used as a T in the Park style party area however this is potentially already happening at night”
“Personally, wild camping shouldn’t be allowed especially in the Harlaw area. This year has been especially bad in all the beauty spots. The rubbish and human waste are beyond disgusting. Maybe with a small properly managed camp site and definitely more toilet facilities and definitely more wardens keeping an eye on things could be a much better solution”
“I think campers should “buy” or at least register on arrival and check back in with the warden on departure showing that they have left wherever they have camped as they found it. I think there is widespread acceptance of responsible camping and equal disappointment and annoyance at those who leave a mess. The key responsibility is to leave it as you find it not just pay a fee and imagine that clearing up is the warden’s job because you’ve paid to camp.”
“The anti-social behaviour this summer has been appalling and needs to be controlled for the enjoyment of the park. Provision of and upgrading of toilets should be a priority.”
“This seems a good solution. As a regular user of the park, it was clear that anti-social camping was a major problem this summer. Providing some facilities is a sensible option.”
“In the recent months it has become clear that wild camping is getting out of hand not only damaging the local environment but posing a threat to the safety of others in the area. I therefore think that the only way to allow some provision is to now formally control the camping and charge to support the costs of the provision. My only concern would be for the safety of any lone wardens if there are any large / antisocial groups”
“I think wild camping should continue to be allowed but there should a 24-hour warden or a team available to make sure this is done in a responsible way.”
Theme 2: The restrictions associated with Covid-19 have exacerbated the situation in 2020
“Wild camping was definitely a big issue in 2020. How much this was due to Covid-19 “5 mile” travel restrictions (unnecessarily) preventing people from travelling to other established camp grounds is unclear. Warden and camp ground seem sensible ideas”
“As a member of Carnethy Hill running club, I spend a lot of time in and around the Pentlands. This year, the amount of rubbish and mess left by irresponsible visitors has disgusted me. I see the role of a warden at Harlaw as essential, but also wardens who are employed to patrol the park and have the authority to issue fines to those who clearly have no respect for their surroundings, wildlife, or other visitors.”
“Hopefully the problems will fade after the pandemic, but it would be good to have better camping.”
“The drastic rise in the amount of campers has undoubtedly been caused by the COVID pandemic and associated restrictions, which hopefully will improve as vaccines become available. I agree that there is a need for a more permanent warden in order to deter camping, and unsociable behaviour but a knee jerk reaction to COVID in creating an area for more campers which will just increase the amount that wish to camp,(post COVID) and increase the amount of vehicles to car parks and more footfall. The idea of a small charge for both camping and use of toilet facilities is all very well for responsible people but unfortunately unrealistic because the majority of so called 'dirty campers;' will not pay and will continue to act in an unsociable manner.”
“I can understand why this is being proposed but given that this year has been exceptional due to Covid-19, it hopefully will not continue in similar vein beyond next year. I suspect things will revert to a more manageable level in the near future and that such measures as charging for camping and having a warden could be viewed as excessive restrictions.”
“I think where there is a will there is a way. This will not prevent wild camping. Covid has exacerbated this situation and once we are able to travel again this will not be such an issue.”
“This year has been exceptional with no foreign holidays/music festivals and people camping who are unlikely to camp in the future. A knee jerk reaction banning camping around any area of the Pentlands is more likely to affect genuine wild campers and is to be avoided at the moment unless the problems continue post Covid.”
Theme 3: Displacement concern for other sites if Harlaw becomes a managed site with limited pitches
“Think it is the only option. Why can't the police patrol the reservoirs? Will this just move the problem elsewhere?”
“How do you prevent the problem simply being displaced to somewhere else local?”
“My concern would be that by preventing unrestricted camping at Harlaw the problem will simply move somewhere else. But I agree that the desecration caused by thoughtless camping must be stopped.”
“Risk that anti-social camping will still continue but elsewhere in park because these individuals do not respect the environment or that other people would need to pick up their mess - they don't care! Warden may need police back up initially!!”
“Seems sensible though I'm not sure whether a warden may just drive irresponsible campers to other locations. Purpose of the warden should not be to 'prevent camping' but to educate those who are not aware of how to camp responsibly.”
“This would improve the situation at Harlaw; but the irresponsible would probably go elsewhere”
“But those intent on antisocial camping will not pay to use the site and will find somewhere else to go for free, thereby just moving the problem somewhere else rather than fixing it”
“This summer I saw people camping and setting fires amongst the trees at Bonaly reservoir. I also saw rubbish that had been left behind. An eco-camping area here is essential too, if you created a managed facility at Harlaw, the problem may just increase at Bonaly.”
“I think this would drive the anti-social element elsewhere and so just move the problem on. I'd rather see resource applied to deal with the problem through education, fines or the like.”
“Would people pay to camp at Harlaw when they could camp anywhere else in the Pentlands for free? Also, those that are "underage drinking" aren't going to pay to camp somewhere that they can't behave in an antisocial manner and drink/play music.”
Theme 4: Preferences for an educational approach
“The situation needs to be policed in some way and there needs to be a staff presence. Not everyone will be in favour of paying for camping since part of the reason people go to the Pentlands is to "wild camp" for free. More education is required to help people understand what wild camping is and the warden should be involved in this.”
“Irresponsible behaviour is growing as people who have not traditionally used the outdoors are doing so without respect. It takes time for that respect to develop. Also, consideration of current legislation of what constitutes wild camping is required. Wild camping is ‘leave no trace’ with 1-2 people pitching a tent to sleep...not pitching a gazebo and having a party.”
“I think this needs to be done alongside education and encouragement to use the area, just use it responsibly. It is counterproductive to just try and ban access, which i think people may be worried about with the introduction of additional rules. They may see it as a slippery slope to more and more regulation. When in fact, open spaces should belong to all of us and if you encourage people to use them and appreciate them then they begin to act responsibly. But at the moment people are not behaving well so I think a warden is a good idea”
“The main problem in the park seems to be the anti-social behaviour of a minority of the visitors. In the long term this can only be improved by education which is a very slow process. It needs more "ranger" type staff at weekends. Perhaps the creation of another new post of part-time ranger with sole responsibility of patrolling the Park in addition to the single Heritage Officer on duty would help.”
“I think there should be a wariness of just treating the symptom and not the cause. Could there be better education of those who are the cause of the anti-social behaviour? Otherwise, it will only push the problem elsewhere.”
“Education, persuasion and " nudge" techniques may be more successful than direct approach and enforcement.”
“I would like to see an outdoors passionate warden who encourages and teaches visitors good things. I would not like to see this “policed” “Sledgehammer to crack a nut. Set out several firepits and police responsible wild camping for a season. That would educate those that do not know how to respect the countryside and preserve the rights of use for those of us that do know how to behave appropriately.”
“I definitely think the presence of a Warden would help alleviate the problem though not necessarily be a lasting solution. Educating, and informing the general public about their rights and responsibilities under SOAC is a vital part of tackling the issues.”
“Need to balance this year with travel restrictions as being aberrative. It will likely displace camping and what is needed is much more education at many levels. A warden post to educate campers would be helpful and a good use of council funds.”
Theme 5: Concern that one warden position would not be feasible or safe. Enforcement difficult for warden without Police type powers to deal with anti-social behaviour
“I say yes, but this warden needs to have back up nearby for any protection that may be necessary. People don’t like being told what they can and cannot do.”
“It's a good idea. But there might need to be 2 wardens on duty, for safety.” “Only if the warden has some sort of legal enforcement power, otherwise they will be ignored”
“Is a sole warden at night safe? Would be concerned for aggressive/ antisocial behaviour.” “I feel it would be unfair and unsafe to consider just one post of a warden. For example, how could this post be filled in consideration of equality issues where a young female or person with a disability might be seen as vulnerable in a situation like this.”
“Especially over summer, I’ve seen a lot of litter left by campers. I agree a warden would be a possible solution, but I also worry about the safety of the warden. If there is a large group of campers who disagree with the warden what powers would the warden have to move them on?”
“The role of warden could almost be dangerous, considering the numbers in some of the camping groups. They would initially need the support of community police at least once every evening and available at brief notice by police radio as required.”
“I would be concerned about the warden's safety. Many of the camping parties are large groups of young men drinking heavily.”
“What authority would they have? I'm not sure it would work, and people might just ignore any requests to deal with anti-social behaviour. Unfortunately, the type of person who thinks it's ok to leave litter, camping detritus and worse, will not be the type of person who will take any notice of a warden I don't think.”
“The people who created the mess and disruption last summer - including intimidation and violence - are not likely to stick to any rules and will camp where they like, as they did elsewhere in Scotland. A warden without police powers would be both ineffective and at risk of abuse and even personal injury.”
“What powers would the Warden have? Could be a potentially dangerous job if operating at night confronting drugged or drunk campers. To seriously tackle irresponsible behaviour really needs a police response with court appearances and fines.”
Theme 6: Impact of managed campsite on Rights of Access to wild camp in the Pentlands.
“I wouldn't want this to be extended elsewhere as eats into access rights.”
“As much as I would like the tradition to continue I very much doubt this will be the case for quite a few years. Perhaps revisit in 5-10 years of rules can be relaxed”
“I’m concerned about a possible ban on all wild camping at Harlaw & how large an area this might cover as there are some very responsible wild campers who follow rules & leave no trace. If it’s only immediate waterside areas that fine but wild camping needs to be allowed for those that walk further into the regional park. Generally, those who make a mess & disturbance are only interested in camping close to car park anyway. Please don’t spoil it for the considerate quiet campers by having too wide an area where camping is banned”
“Yes, but may just encourage people to camp elsewhere in large groups. I would not want this organised campsite to prevent wild camping in other areas of the park - we have purposely sought out quieter places this summer.”
“I see this as a sensible approach to address the small number of individuals who spoil it for others if they are forced to use this site. this however spoils it for the many users who camp here with the no trace ethos. I would however hope that this would not result in any banning of true wild camping in the wider regional park. There are many sensible users who camp in remote parts of the park as individual or a couple of people away from the usual busy thoroughfares and leave no trace and respect the park and the landowners. This should continue to be possible and focus on tackling the social camping and anti-social behaviour hotspots.”
“Responsible wild camping further afield should still be allowed. The actions of a few irresponsible idiots should not stop responsible, legal "leave no trace" camping.”
“It is a good idea to have a formal area with toilet (this need not be a very expensive toilet, but should be similar to those in National Parks in New Zealand or USA, e.g. "long-drop" or composting etc. Despite having a formal area to camp. it is very important to not ban camping in the Pentlands - once a right is taken away it is hard to get it back and in Scotland, we have the right to wild camp. Education and policing are need to reduce antisocial behaviour.”
“I think Covid & loss of holidays has increased the anti-social camping. As a responsible wild camper, I would be sad to see the loss of camping. A warden to monitor anti-social camping & an eco-camp site sound good, but I would hope to retain wild camping for responsible campers e.g. let warden know where we are going, donate but not camp in a fixed campsite with other people”
“It is really important to maintain the right for people to have access to the countryside and camp in Scotland. I would support a ranger and a small fee but there should not be strict camping 'zones' which remove an important freedom in Scotland”
Theme 7: Charging may disadvantage those who cannot afford it from accessing the Pentlands and activities like wild camping which are traditionally free
“I think as long as the cost of camping isn't enough to prohibit poorer families from camping then I think it's a good thing.”
“I think this is the only way to deal with inconsiderate campers and those who don't treat the area with respect. I would say that the cost of the campsite needs to be small enough that it doesn't become an accessibility issue itself - the price cannot be unaffordable.”
“yes, but must ensure displacement is avoided by making the camping accessible to lowwaged. simple, robust facility”
“It may simply push the irresponsible campers to other parts of the national park. Perhaps the warden could work to encourage responsible camping and the police could move on people breaking the outdoor access code. Keep wild camping available to all, outdoors is one of the few resources available to low income people and families.”
“I think it is shocking that open spaces are being stolen for the case of a small fee. Some parents take their kids camping and don’t expect the fee when they have already spent so much on food and camping gear. Reconsider please”
Theme 8: An eco-campsite could provide a facility to enable people to access camping in a safer manner:
“I am a regular wild camper and never leave a trace. I've never camped at Harlaw, and one reason is because of the loud and anti-social groups which go there. A warden would actually encourage me to camp there and to take the family. I'd happily pay a small fee to allow camping to be done responsibly, in return for provision of toilet and bin facilities. I am sensitive to concerns that this could lead to erosion of rights and would expect formal legal safe-guards that this is a site specific solution in response to a specific an sustained problem of littering in a specific area and will not lead to a blanket ban on camping in the park.”
“I think this must be the way forward to help encourage youngsters to access the countryside responsibly. This is even more important with the reduction in residential opportunities for school pupils in recent years.”
“Have a measured approach. It is good for young people to get away from the city to camp. Many of them will be responsible and this needs to be considered. A welcoming campsite with facilities is a good idea”
Sustainable transport and active travel – comments
Question 12 of the 2020 Public Engagement exercise asked respondents to comment on the proposal to upgrade key access paths. 931 comments were made, which can be grouped into seven themes (not actual comments):
Theme 1 - “Roads are dangerous to walk/cycle/horse ride on (e.g. Kirkgate, Harlaw Road, Mansfield Road, A702) and could be made safer”
Theme 2 - “Create new off-road paths (e.g. Bonaly car park from bypass, up length of Bavelaw Burn, from Mansfield Road) and improve present off-road paths (e.g. Poet’s Glen)”
Theme 3 - “New paths need to be suitable for all – walkers, cyclists, buggies, horses etc”
Theme 4 - “Advertise present walking routes to the regional park”
Theme 5 - “More cycle racks required”
Theme 6 - “Some would not walk to the regional park as it is too far (distance, health reasons, with children etc)”
Theme 7 - Some are against making more paths to the regional park. A variety of reasons were provided:
“the countryside should be left as it is”
“money would be better spent elsewhere (including on paths within the regional park”
“there are already plenty of paths to the regional park”
“more paths to the park would mean more erosion/anti-social behaviour”
“paths will not stop people coming by car or would mean car drivers would park at the start of these paths and cause problems there”
Question 10 asked for your comments on question 9 – use of Park and Ride facility
The 1,236 responses to this question can be grouped into five themes:
For those supporting a Park and Ride (themes, not actual comments):
Theme 1 - “A bus service that visits all access points would help reduce pressure on car parks and allow walkers to do linear walks rather than circular routes. Current bus routes don't take walkers close enough to the regional park”
Theme 2 - “A park and ride need to be a regular service (e.g. every 20 mins on busy days)”
Theme 3 - “If a shuttle is provided it needs to be same price as parking fee on site. Must allow dog owners to use the service”
And those against:
Theme 4 - “Park & ride / public transport means long waits, longer journey times, waiting outside, unlikely to allow bikes, difficult for families, costs more than a car”
Theme 5 - “There are already buses that can take you very near all walks”
Upgrading and expansion options for principle car parks – comments
Question 8 asked “Do you agree or disagree that the proposals will improve parking at the four principal car parks in the regional park?” The public engagement exercise invited comments on this proposal (Question 10) and received 1,067 responses, which can be grouped into eight themes (not actual comments):
Theme 1 - “Increasing car park size will encourage more vehicles”
Theme 2 - “Not a sustainable option. A more sustainable method would be preferred”
Theme 3 - “Access roads can’t cope with traffic”
Theme 4 - “Welcome improvement necessary to alleviate displacement”
Theme 5 - “Important there are traffic restrictions (e.g. double yellow lines) and these are upheld as there is still likely to be bad parking”
Theme 6 - “The suggested increase in parking spaces will not be enough and need to be greater”
Theme 7 - “Do not remove trees”
Theme 8 - “Space required for horse boxes”
Introduction of mandatory parking charges – comments
Comments from those supporting charges (66.35%) included the following:
“Have no issues with parking charges that go towards the upkeep of the park and for facilities”
“The money collected would have to back to the Pentlands upkeep”
“Please also improve access & parking for bikes & other sustainable transport”
“Needs to be enforced otherwise some drivers will still park without paying”
“£2 a day is a reasonable charge”
“Must include means for electronic payment. Common, say in lake District national trust carparks”
“If you are talking charges per hour like those in town then NO I do not agree”
“This has to be carefully planned as there is the risk that people will park outside the designated car park to avoid paying any charges and in doing so create chaos on the access roads.”
“People should be discouraged from driving to the car parks on the edge of the city (Swanston, Bonaly, Hillend and Dreghorn). People should be able to get there on foot, bike or public transport…there need to be more places to lock bikes.”
“I would be happy to pay to park in the 4 main carparks but not sure I'd want to pay an annual charge unless i was guaranteed a space. I may consider though it and look on it as a donation to help the upkeep and protect an area I love,”
“I make a point of always paying via ringo when I visit, but it’s not that well sign posted and I’m not surprised people miss it.”
“if someone can afford to run a car, they can afford £2 to park”
“Do not make it voluntary. No one will pay it”
Comments from those NOT supporting charges (20.78%):
“I strongly believe it is the government’s responsibility to fund looking after the car parks. It should be encouraged to exercise and enjoy the hills for all the mental and physical benefits that come from it…”
“We pay council tax. Car park should be free”
“For many, this is a local park which they should not have to pay for by, effectively, an additional tax”
“I don't agree with any charging. Full car parks mean you are a victim of your own success. Larger car parks? More car parks in different places?”
“Paying to park will discourage people to visit. For someone who goes up to Harlaw about 5 days a week if I were to pay to park I would not be going. I would park further away and walk like most other people”
“Parking should be for blue badge holders only and should be free”