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'Wild camping' ban wanted for motorhomes and camper vans

Tuesday, March 9th, 2021 8:35am

By Daniel Clark, local democracy reporter

Woolacombe's esplanade full of camper vans and motorhomes (Image Mortehoe Parish Council)

North Devon parish writes to PM

A parish council in North Devon has written to the Government asking them to ban ‘wild camping’ from motorhome and camper van users.

Mortehoe Parish Council, which has within its boundaries one of the most popular beaches in the country, Woolacombe Beach, is urging the authorities to change the legislation so that campers, camper vans, caravans and motorhomes must use existing registered and approved camping and overnight areas for overnight stays.

It follows an increasing number of visitors to the parish who are parking up by the side of roads or in ordinary parking spaces and spending the night, or camping for three or four nights or longer.

In a letter to Boris Johnson, the parish council said that because there is often a lack of proper drainage or sanitation, subsequent visitors to these spots are, unknowingly, often walking through, sitting in, or playing in areas contaminated by the effluent and waste from the unauthorised overnight visitors.

Cllr Don Duffield, chairman of the parish council, said: “Over the years there has been considerable abuse of the area by so called “wild campers”, on private land and also on the highway. One particular concern at present is the Esplanade at Woolacombe, where ever increasing numbers are staying overnight, in spite of there being signage indicating No Overnight parking from midnight to 6am.

“Last year brought this to a head, when with the public toilets closed, it was blatantly obvious that these campers were carrying out their ablutions on the grass or in the bushes, and disposing of their other waste randomly, with no concern to the local area.

“We have no problem with visitors to the area – in fact the whole village encourages them – but in the proper place namely the number of camp sites that there are in the local vicinity.”

The letter to the Prime Minister added: “Woolacombe Beach is a magnificent space frequented by hundreds of thousands of people each year. Many of these visitors have their own camper vans or motorhomes and the majority make good use of the variety of campsites and holiday parks which we have close by.

“However, an increasing number are now just parking up by the side of normal roads or in ordinary parking spaces and spending the night, or camping for three or four nights or longer, in these areas without proper drainage or sanitation. Subsequent visitors to these spots are, unknowingly, often walking through, sitting in, or playing in areas contaminated by the effluent and waste from these unauthorised overnight visitors.

“We know that our area has a role to play in the physical and mental rehabilitation of the wider population, but we are hugely concerned that, as the whole country seeks to control the transmission of the Covid-19 virus by following the guidance from The Government and the NHS, “free” or “wild” camping, or unregulated overnight stays, are going directly against the science and common sense.

“As the rules of lockdown gradually ease, without any clear guidance, the police, too, will find themselves unable to help the situation.

“We would like you, SAGE and The Government as a whole to place within your future regulation associated with the pandemic, a simple requirement that campers, camper vans, caravans and motorhomes must use existing registered and approved camping and overnight areas for overnight stays.

“By taking this simple step you will be helping communities around the country, supporting the tourism economy, helping the police, and, above all, helping reduce the possibility of transmission of the virus. We do want to welcome visitors, but we want to do it safely.”

Cllr Duffield added: “Any popular tourist destination will soon have its visitor numbers massively swelled once the right to travel further away from home is restored. At the moment, it would be a relatively easy matter to include the simple requirement: that campers, camper vans, caravans and motorhomes must use existing registered and approved camping and overnight areas for overnight stays.

“Learning from some of the experiences of the first lockdown last year, it would be really helpful and timely to get the advice out well in advance of the mass movement of people, providing clarity and giving them the opportunity to plan ahead.

“To do nothing is simply to create a much more complicated situation which will, inevitably, be more costly, both financially and in terms of the time demands on the police and other enforcement authorities. Be assured, that this is a national issue, and once the travel genie is allowed out of its bottle there will be no easy return.”

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