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Caithness councillor says wild camping is 'out of control' and action must be taken

By Gordon Calder

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Bins were overflowing at the Thurso caravan site this week, with human waste among the items dumped. Some of the photos shown to the John O'Groat Journal were too disgusting to publish.
Bins were overflowing at the Thurso caravan site this week, with human waste among the items dumped. Some of the photos shown to the John O'Groat Journal were too disgusting to publish.

Wild camping is "out of control" in Caithness and action has to be taken to deal with it, a local Highland councillor has said.

Councillor Matthew Reiss is calling for tougher measures to be introduced to prevent what has been happening in the far north and other parts of Scotland since the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

Councillor Reiss says he has no issue with "genuine wild campers" but does not want campervans, motorhomes and people with tents turning up in unsuitable areas, such as Duncansby Head and Dunnet Head.

He explained that rules in England and Wales do not allow such camping and would like the Scottish Outdoor Access Code – which he described as "out of date" – to be strengthened to deal with the problem.

"Most tourists are law-abiding and are frustrated by what is happening. A small, ignorant minority is giving everybody a bad name," said Councillor Reiss, a former police officer who represents Thurso and Northwest Caithness on Highland Council.

He said the wild camping problems are continuing and pointed out that a visitor at Thurso caravan site this week forced the door of a toilet which had been cordoned off with black and yellow tape. People were also putting sacks of human waste in bins, he said.

Alan Loomes, who has run the Thurso Bay Caravan and Camping Park for the past 11 years, is "disheartened" by what is happening and said one visitor was "absolutely disgusted" by the behaviour of some tourists. "Some people are showing a complete disregard for safety given what is going on in the world at the moment," he said.

Councillor Reiss said tourism can play a huge part in the local economy after Dounreay is decommissioned and wants to encourage visitors to come to the far north – but doesn't want people camping in areas they should not be in, including enclosed agricultural land.

He acknowledged that better facilities have to be provided for tourists and would like to see "a properly funded ranger service" to help deal with wild campers. The money for such initiatives could come from the Scottish Government, he said.

The councillor also proposed cordoning off the road at Duncansby Head – scene of some of the worst problems – to stop campers gaining access. That would protect the 1000 sheep and 1000 lambs there and the 28 crofters who earn their livelihood in the area.

Caithness civic leader Willie Mackay said local authorities should be given more powers to deal with the wild camping problem. He believes more visitors will head north because of concerns about travelling abroad due to coronavirus and says the infrastructure, including toilets and service facilities, has to be "vastly improved".

"Visiting wild campers know the rules and unfortunately have to be constantly reminded of them – and top of the list is to bury your human waste properly in a hole six to eight inches deep and at least 50 metres away from watercourses," said Councillor Mackay (Wick and East Caithness).

"Local authorities need to be given the power to prevent wild camping in areas that are inappropriate or sensitive and there has to be stronger enforcement of the existing laws and the Scottish Outdoor AccessCode."

Earlier this week, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP Jamie Stone launched a campaign to introduce a roadside camping congestion charge. while Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson, said visitors are welcome to come to the north but urged them to respect the environment and not leave human waste and litter behind.

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