The fierce attack by Kevin Findlater, the chief inspector who led the policing of Loch Lomond before he retired in 2013, threatens to undermine the park authority’s bid to ban camping without a permit on loch shores and roadsides across the region.
He has been backed by high-profile outdoor campaigners, who are demanding that the proposed curbs be abandoned. The park authority, however, says it is “saddened and disappointed” by his surprise intervention.
Bylaws to control camping on the east shore of Loch Lomond were introduced by the park in 2011 despite opposition from walking and mountaineering groups. They were aimed at combating littering and anti-social behaviour by summertime campers from urban areas.
But now the park wants to extend the bylaws to the west shore of Loch Lomond, the northern end of Loch Long, and half a dozen other lochs and roads around Aberfoyle, Kilmahog, Strathyre, Balquhidder and Lochearnhead. A consultation on the proposals is due to end on Monday (12 January).
In an 11-page submission to the park authority, Findlater condemns the proposed new bylaws as “wholly wrong”. They are “badly crafted”, “cynical” and “shamefully” presented, he says. “The bylaws themselves are wholly unnecessary, draconian and drive a coach and horses through the right to roam so valued in all of Scotland.”
They would “criminalise people innocently accessing the countryside”, he argues. “To make matters worse, despite assurances given to the contrary, the new proposals grossly and unfairly extend the scope and geography of the bylaws in a way that must raise questions as to what are the real motivations.”
The bylaws could lead to the “farcical” situation of a landowner allowing fishermen to camp on the shore of Loch Earn while walkers in tents nearby are turned into criminals, Findlater warns. The park authority is using a handful of problem sites “to blow up and grossly exaggerate the problems being caused by caravans and motorhomes,” he adds.
He accuses the authority of “the worst form of NIMBYism” because its new powers could force campers to use areas outwith the park. “It is likely that I have more years experience than most other present and past police officers within the wider Trossachs,” he says. “I can emphatically say these are powers I would neither want nor benefit from.”
Findlater served for 30 years in the police, mostly based in and around Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, and was awarded an MBE in 2013. As chief inspector, he designed and led a series of operations to combat anti-social behaviour by campers in the park, as well as advising the park authority on access and the Scottish government on environmental crime.
Cameron McNeish, the well-known outdoor writer and broadcaster who is president of the Backpackers Club, said that the proposed bylaws had left a “dark stain” on the integrity of the national park. “I'm shocked that a national park board suggests criminalising those who wild camp responsibly when it is legal to do so in every other part of Scotland,” he said.
He accepted there were problems with litter and alcohol abuse but argued that “the park authorities should clearly be working hand in hand with the police, using the existing laws of Scotland, to deal with these problems, not creating bylaws to victimise innocent users of the park.”
Dave Morris, former director of Ramblers Scotland, described Findlater’s comments as a “wake-up call” for the park and the Scottish government. “The park authority needs to abandon its byelaw proposals immediately and sit down with Police Scotland, outdoor organisations and other experts and work out sensible solutions,” he said.
When approached by the Sunday Herald, Police Scotland was non-committal on the proposed bylaws. But the park authority later provided a police statement that was “generally supportive” as long as the bylaws were introduced as part of a suite of other measures.
A spokeswoman for the park authority said: “We are saddened and disappointed that someone who was so closely involved in delivering the dramatic improvements at east Loch Lomond has chosen to question the role of byelaws – which he admits helped further reduce anti-social behaviour crimes in the area.”
The park’s sensitivity and popularity meant it had to take “tough decisions,” she added. “Far from trying to restrict access to this special place, we firmly believe the package of measures we have devised will make these pressured hotspots better places to visit.”
Kevin Findlater's full response to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs national park consultation can be downloaded here (120KB pdf). This story prompted a blog by the park authority here (with a response from Findlater), another by Cameron McNeish and a report in the online outdoor magazine, Grough. It was also followed up by the Daily Record, The Scotsman, the BBC and others.