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What is the Punishment for Wild Camping in the UK? Rules You Need to Know

Wilding camping Scotland

Before you pack up your camping gear and head out into the countryside for a staycation, you’ll need to check whether where you’re planning on pitching your tent is actually legal.

Each country in the UK has its own rules and laws about where and when you can wild camp, with some areas being totally off-limits and punishable if you’re caught.

To help you plan your adventure responsibly, we’ve compiled the essential information you need to know about wild camping in the UK so that you don’t get caught out by any potential penalties or fines.

England

Wales

Scotland

Northern Ireland

Legal with permission only

Legal with permission only

Wild camping is legal

Legal with permission only

No penalty if you move along when asked

No penalty if you move along when asked

No penalty

No penalty if you move along when asked

Follow the ‘Leave no trace’ rule

Follow the ‘Leave no trace’ rule

Follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC)

Follow the ‘Leave no trace’ rule

Exceptions for some areas of Dartmoor

No exceptions

Exceptions for some areas of Loch Lomond

No exceptions

Wilding camp
What is the Punishment for Wild Camping in the UK? Rules You Need to Know

Wild Camping Laws in England & Wales

Campers can often feel unclear about where they stand when it comes to wild camping in England and Wales. That’s because it is a little confusing at first. 

The answer to the question, “Is it legal to wild camp in England/Wales?” is “No, but also yes”. So let us clear that up.

The only way to legally wild camp in England and Wales is to get prior permission from the landowner. 

Almost all land in England and Wales is privately owned, so before you set out on your wild camping adventure, you’ll need to do some research into who legally owns the land you want to camp on.

What is the Punishment for Wild Camping in England & Wales?

If you’re caught wild camping on someone’s land without their express permission, there are a couple of things that might happen.

First of all, you don’t need to worry about being arrested. Wild camping without permission is classed as a civil offence, so all the police will do is ask you to move on. 

However, if you refuse to move or are seemingly non-compliant, it may escalate to aggravated trespassing, which is a criminal offence and can result in your arrest.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Act 2022 is a recent law that makes it easier for police to move you along if you’re trespassing and deemed to be causing damage, distress, or disruption by doing so.

Under this new act, any behaviour considered to be refusing to move on constitutes a criminal offence and can be punishable by a prison sentence of up to 3 months, a fine of up to £2,500, or both.

Note: This new legislation is more likely to apply to people stealth camping with a vehicle rather than wild campers in a tent.
Wild camp red tent
What is the Punishment for Wild Camping in the UK? Rules You Need to Know

Possible Exceptions to Wild Camping in England & Wales

It’s worth noting that there are some areas of Dartmoor National Park where wild camping is allowed without obtaining the express permission of the landowner, despite being privately owned.

You can use this interactive map to help you work out where you can legally wild camp without prior permission in the National Park.

As with all aspects of wild camping in England, there are some rules you still have to follow. When wild camping on Dartmoor, no vehicles are allowed, you must be backpack camping. Also, large family tents are not permitted in these areas.

In 2023, there was an ongoing High Court case that threatened campers permission to camp in certain areas of Dartmoor National Park. Both the original case and an appeal sided in favour of letting campers continue to wild camp in the areas highlighted on the map linked above. 

However, this is a topic with plenty of emotion on both sides, and we’ll keep this post updated with any changes that may occur in the future.

Wild camp field
What is the Punishment for Wild Camping in the UK? Rules You Need to Know

Wild Camping Laws in Scotland

The rules about wild camping in Scotland are different to everywhere else in the UK, thanks to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act, 2003, which made it legal to wild camp almost anywhere in the country without having to seek permission from the landowner first.

As of 2017, between March 1st and October 31st, campers aren’t permitted to wild camp on a 9-mile stretch along the east shore of Loch Lomond, between Drymen and Rowardennan. A £500 fine may be enforced for wild camping here.

Is There a Punishment for Wild Camping in Scotland?

Because wild camping is legal throughout Scotland, there isn’t any punishment if someone finds you camping on their land. 

With that being said, it’s important that campers follow the guidelines set out in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, which states that camping in private gardens, industrial sites, paying visitor attractions, farmyards, and fields with crops is strictly prohibited.

Rules & Expectations When Wild Camping in Scotland

Ultimately, wild campers are expected to be responsible during their trip. This applies to the effect they have on wildlife and the local environment. You should always follow the ‘Leave No Trace‘ philosophy to help preserve the land you’re staying on.

Also, make sure you’re not intruding on the privacy or needs of those who live and work on the land. This means no obstructing farming by adhering to the ‘Pitch Late, Leave Early’ rules

You should also be careful not to damage fences, gates, or walls.

If you take your dog wild camping with you, always make sure it’s under control if you’re near livestock or ground-nesting birds.

These are more common sense guidelines rather than anything set in stone. Still, if campers regularly ignore them, the freedom to wild camp may be rescinded with new legislation, so make sure you’re camping responsibly.

Wilding camping scotland
What is the Punishment for Wild Camping in the UK? Rules You Need to Know

Wild Camping Laws in Northern Ireland

The laws surrounding wild camping in Northern Ireland are very similar to those in England and Wales. 

You can legally wild camp in Northern Ireland if you have prior permission from the landowner. It’s also considered a civil offence rather than criminal, so the likelihood of being arrested are low.

Again, if you’re asked to move on and refuse, it can escalate to the criminal offence of aggravated trespassing, which can get you arrested and imprisoned or fined.

What is the Punishment for Wild Camping in NI?

Because wild camping is legal as long as you have permission and is only classed as the civil offence of trespassing if you don’t, there isn’t a punishment for wild camping as long as you move on if asked.

Remember that if you’re perceived as refusing to move on or being defensive or argumentative, this escalates the issue to a criminal offence, which is punishable by fines and even jail time, depending on the facts of the incident.

NI Wild Camping Guidelines to Follow

As always, it’s best to follow the “Leave No Trace” philosophy when wild camping in Northern Ireland. 

Not only will this help to ensure wild camping remains legal in the country, but it also helps to protect the beautiful countryside of the Emerald Isle that you went to enjoy in the first place.

General Rules for Wild Camping

Wherever you choose to take your first wild camping adventure, there are some general rules that you should follow to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible.

1. ‘Leave No Trace’

The ‘Leave No Trace’ rules underpins the ethical use of natural spaces, urging campers to minimise their impact on the environment. 

It encompasses principles such as disposing of waste properly, respecting wildlife and habitats, and, crucially, not lighting a campfire! (A camping stove is often acceptable on private land).

Essentially, it advocates for leaving the outdoors exactly as you found it, ensuring its preservation for future generations and maintaining the natural beauty and integrity of the landscape.

This also applies to wild camping toilet etiquette. When nature calls, you have to deal with it. For faecal matter, you need to dig a hole for your waste. 

Make sure it’s away from paths and water sources and at least 6 inches deep, and cover it when you’re done. Take any toilet paper or wipes with you. We recommend using dog poo bags to carry your used paper.

2. No Vehicles Allowed

Many wild camping locales prohibit vehicles, primarily to safeguard the natural environment from damage and pollution.

Vehicles can harm delicate ecosystems, compact soil, and disrupt wildlife habitats. 

Additionally, the presence of vehicles could detract from the wilderness experience for other campers, undermining the tranquillity and immersion in nature that wild camping seeks to offer.

This rule helps ensure the preservation of pristine natural sites for future enjoyment and ecological stability.

Wild camp
What is the Punishment for Wild Camping in the UK? Rules You Need to Know

3. Be Apologetic, Not Defensive

If you get caught wild camping, adopting an apologetic stance rather than being defensive can significantly impact the outcome.

Being understanding and respectful acknowledges the landowner’s perspective, potentially leading to a more lenient response. It demonstrates your awareness of the trespass and your intention not to cause harm.

This approach not only potentially diffuses tension but may also encourage a dialogue that could lead to permission for a limited stay or future visits.

4. Be Neither Seen Nor Heard

Opting for dark, natural-coloured tents over fluorescent ones is wise for wild campers, as it minimises visual impact on the landscape.

This choice aligns with the ethos of being neither seen nor heard, ensuring campers blend seamlessly into their surroundings.

It reduces the disturbance to wildlife and respects other countryside users by preserving the natural aesthetic of the outdoors.

Wilding camping
What is the Punishment for Wild Camping in the UK? Rules You Need to Know

Summary: Wild Camping Responsibly & Legally

Wherever you decide to wild camp in the UK, it’s important to make sure you’re following the laws that apply to your chosen area and are respectful of the land.

Whether you have to ask permission from a landowner or legislation allows you to wild camp anywhere, it’s important that campers remember that these permissions and laws can be rescinded at any point if the land being used isn’t being looked after properly. 

So, leave the beautiful UK countryside how you found it to enjoy trips for years to come!

To make sure you’re prepared for your next trip, check out our blog about the essentials for wild camping.

FAQs

What to Do if You Get Caught?

If you’re caught wild camping, remain calm and respectful. Apologise to the landowner and express your intention to leave immediately. Cooperation and understanding can often lead to a more favourable outcome, possibly avoiding any legal or penal consequences.

Is Wild Camping in England Worth the Risk?

Wild camping in England carries risks due to legal restrictions. However, with planning, seeking permission, and following the wild camping ethos, it can offer a unique and enriching outdoor experience.

What Types of Tent Are Good for Wild Camping?

For wild camping, selecting a dark-coloured, small tent is ideal. These tents are less visible in natural settings, helping to minimise visual impact and blend with the environment. Roof tents are not allowed when wild camping, as vehicles are prohibited.

Is it Illegal to Camp in a Forest UK?

In the UK, camping in forests without permission is generally illegal. However, the Forestry Commission allows camping in designated areas within some forests. Always check local regulations or seek permission from the landowner before setting up camp.

What Happens if You Illegally Camp?

If you’re caught illegally camping, you’ll likely be asked to leave by the landowner or authorities. Refusal or non-compliance may escalate the situation, potentially leading to fines or other legal repercussions.

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