A surge in the number of pop-up campsites planning to open this summer has raised environmental concerns in the Lake District and other tourist hotspots.
Short-term, back-to-basics campsites have proliferated since last year’s government relaxation of planning regulations for landowners, a move intended to help rural communities recoup income lost to the Covid pandemic.
Last month, the Lake District national park authority launched a guide to setting up pop-up campsites for landowners, who can now offer temporary camping on their property for up to 56 days without requiring planning permission. It is hoped that pop-ups will help prevent fly-camping in beauty spots, which caused issues such as littering and campfire damage in areas such as Cumbria, Yorkshire and Cornwall last summer as demand for domestic holidays outstripped supply.
However, summer 2021 pop-up campsites at White Moss near Grasmere and Chapel Stile village at the mouth of the Langdale valley – both popular Lake District hiking areas – have been criticised locally. Objections centre around the lack of facilities, which opponents believe could lead to littering and pollution from people washing in the river, as well as potential overcrowding, increased traffic in areas with already overburdened infrastructure, and tree damage from campfires.
In Scotland, where wild camping is legal in many areas, some regions are looking at implementing extra infrastructure to prevent issues like these after a rise in wild camping last year. The Highlands Council demanded an injection of cash last summer to employ countryside wardens to police increasing damage from campers after the relaxation of lockdown restrictions, and the Pentland Hills regional park called for a formal campsite to be established to help tackle antisocial behaviour at the Lothian beauty spot.
Susan Briggs, director of the Tourism Network working across the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors, said there are clear worries among the local businesses that she works with. “We understand that farmers and other landowners may wish to take advantage of demand for pop-up campsites to generate income and offer more back-to-basics enjoyment of the countryside. However, we’re really concerned about the location of such sites.”
One reason campaigners are alarmed is that there is no requirement for pop-up campsites to undertake an environmental assessment, to provide facilities or to restrict the number of tent pitches – the onus is on the individual landowners to operate responsibly.
“We’re also worried that this may set a precedent for more wild camping,” said Briggs, adding: “While many visitors are respectful of the environment they come to enjoy, unfortunately a minority don’t take their litter away and underestimate the damage a campfire can cause.”
The Wildlife Trusts, a federation of UK nature conservation charities, has urged campers to tread lightly this summer. “Our natural heritage is priceless and so important for us all – for our health and happiness – but it is fragile and we urge people to be responsible,” said Rob Stoneman, the Wildlife Trusts’ director of landscape recovery. “It’s important to avoid lighting barbecues, littering, or making a mess in nature reserves as this can harm wildlife and is expensive for reserve managers to sort out.”
Jim Bliss, the assistant estates manager at Lowther Estates, which will run the 50-pitch pop-up campsite at White Moss in the Lakes, said: “The numbers that we’re talking about in the campsite are about 2% of the amount of visitors that already come to the White Moss car parks and use the walking routes around there. So it’s a tiny proportion.”
To further minimise the impact of the site, Bliss says campers will be required to use the existing White Moss hard-surface parking to prevent cars degrading the field, and wardens will be employed to collect litter and check the spacing between pitches is at least eight metres.
“It’s not going to be like Glastonbury or another festival, where the tents are back to back,” said Bliss.
Dan Yates, founder of Pitchup.com, the booking site where the White Moss campsite is being advertised, claims this new breed of campsite is helping to widen access to the natural environment. “It’s clear that pop-up sites are tapping into a market traditional sites may struggle to reach,” he said. Groups that are underrepresented at traditional campsites include people from BAME backgrounds, as well as single-sex groups (often restricted from booking because of the association with disruptive stag and hen parties) and groups of students.
“Our existing pop-up sites have already commented on a higher proportion of younger visitors in 2020. One longstanding pop-up site in the Yorkshire Dales reported its first visits from Asian families” said Yates.
He added: “Based on the feedback we’ve had from more than 200 temporary sites that opened last summer, few were criticised by their local communities, not least because of the much-needed cash injection tourists brought to rural economies.”
Visit Britain has forecast that UK domestic tourism will have lost £87bn in spending due to the pandemic by the end of 2021. According to Yates, new pop-up sites listed on Pitchup earned around £12,000 each last year after launching for less than 56 days at the end of July or early August, providing a lifeline for small businesses such as farms and stately homes.
By July this year, Yates expects the number of pop-up sites using Pitchup.com to have grown to around 500. The vast majority of pop-ups using the website are far from the UK’s “honeypot resorts”, according to Yates, whose site provides guidance for new campsites that list with it.
“The remoteness and undeveloped nature of the sites is the reason they are enticing new customers to camp,” he said.