Should Campers Pay A Tourist Tax to Protect Our Precious Environments?

Camping, especially wild camping, or 'freedom camping' as it is sometimes known, is a wonderful way to enjoy some of the most spectacular and beautiful parts of the UK. It is easy to see why camping, motorhoming and caravanning are increasingly popular holiday choices in the UK. But with the ever increasing numbers choosing to explore these destinations – huge pressures are being placed not only on the local people but also on the precious environments that all the visitors have travelled to see. It is vital that, in the face of the ever increasing popularity of freedom camping, we protect the environments we all love so much.

Questions have been raised over whether camping freedoms will have to be curtailed if numbers continue to flow in. Concerns have been raised that the sheer numbers can overwhelm destinations and can put our beauty spots and sites of special scientific interest at stake. Others baulk at the idea of giving up our freedoms to explore the UK, and state that enforcing existing laws in the countryside and catering for those who wish to camp off-campsite would be sufficient to prevent damage from occurring to natural environments.

Several Scottish Islands and other remote communities in the Highlands have been hardest hit by increasing numbers of tourists and some have been struggling to cope. There is no doubt that rural communities see huge economic benefits from increased numbers of visitors, but where the tourism is not sustainable – fissures begin to appear and both human and natural attractions may suffer.

Keen campers should understand the importance of travelling as sustainably as possible, and following the outdoor access code at all times. But even the most considerate campers can become problematic when they are all concentrated in the same area – especially where that area has not had time or money to put the necessary infrastructure in place.

Some say that money is not only the problem but also the solution. A 'tourist tax' applied to visitors to islands or remote communities could, say proponents of this idea, be ploughed back into a community to help it to develop the necessary infrastructure to support more visitors. Some say that ring-fencing some of this money to help protect natural environments is the best way to ensure that they survive to entice further visitors in the future.

But as with many posed solutions to problems, this one opens a can of worms. Some argue that access to land should always be free and that nature belongs to us all equally. Some argue that a tourist tax may make it more difficult for those with limited incomes to get out and enjoy the wonders of nature. Others simply ponder the problems of enforcement of a tourist tax when it comes to freedom campers.

Whatever you think about the idea of a 'tourist tax' that would apply to campers, the question of how we are to protect our natural environments remains.