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Is Wild Camping in the UK Legal?

Is Wild Camping in the UK Legal?
  • PublishedNovember 3, 2022

For those who love nature, wild camping can be the best activity for a long weekend or a vacation. You can reconnect with your surroundings and have fun away from civilization. However, when it comes to the legal issues you have to pay attention to a few things, unless you want to get into trouble with the law.

What is wild camping?

In short, wild camping is done when you have a campervan, caravan or motorhome that you travel with and set up camp for the nights. You can set up camp in camping spots, stop sites, or free camp out in nature. This way you can be on the road for longer and change your camping site daily, without too many costs.

Where are you allowed to wild camp in the UK?

Unless you are in a specific national park, then wild camping is generally illegal in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Even the national parks such as Dartmoor have strict rules to follow, so if you do decide to camp in one of these areas make sure to know what you’re getting yourself into. 

There are plenty of campsites across the country, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding a good spot and enjoying nature nonetheless.

In Scotland there is an outdoor access code which lets you wild camp at most natural places. However, before setting out on your adventure you should read this code first, as it will be a general rule of thumb for you on how to behave.

The rules of wild camping

These are the very basic rules you need to know, although if you are a respectful camper then these things don’t even need to be said. However, when wild camping, you need to know the ABCD (which is actually what the Scottish outdoor access code relies on).

A is for… Asking for permission

In Scotland you have to ask the landowner for permission to camp, however in England, Northern Ireland and Wales you should still use this rule, since it’s only polite. If you are in one of the latter 3 countries there is still a good chance that you can camp on someone else’s property, you just need to ask and be respectful.

In some places you might even need a permit to stay in a specific spot. So make sure to do your research on the area before setting out.

By asking for permission you can avoid a lot of legal trouble, and even physical harm. Since the land owner knows about your presence you won’t surprise them, which could lead to an altercation.

B is for… Be discreet

Wild camping should occur in the wild, which is why you should be discreet and actually keep away from other people’s houses or other marks of civilization. Set your camp up somewhere further from roads and houses, so as not to disturb the land owner and other people.

You should also try to keep things to yourself, meaning that you shouldn’t cause too much noise. Leave your Bluetooth speaker at home this time and enjoy the sounds of nature instead. If you decide to bring a pet with you then you should also make sure that they are quiet and relaxed too. You don’t want a dog that barks throughout the whole night…

C is for … Clean up after yourself

This is the most basic rule for camping. You are there to enjoy nature, to relax and to find beauty in your surroundings. So why would you ruin that for others by littering and leaving your rubbish everywhere?

As a general rule of thumb you should clean up after yourself continuously. Have a small trash bag around where you can throw tins and cans, and other plastics. After leaving you should also check the area again, to make sure you haven’t left anything behind. You shouldn’t be leaving any trace that you were there, except for a few indents in the grass.

You also shouldn’t cause any harm to vegetation, dig holes or set things on fire, as these can cause permanent damage to the environment.

D is for … Don’t stay more than one night in the same spot

A lot of wild campers don’t know this one, but you shouldn’t be staying more than one night in the same spot. If needed, you can, however you should try to limit your stay as much as possible.

You want to visit as many places as possible anyway, don’t you? You can’t achieve that by sitting still.

Other rules to follow

These ones aren’t set in stone, but if you want to be the perfect, responsible camper that people will gladly let back on their property then these ones are good to follow. Once again, they are quite simple and are only there to make sure you are a polite camper.

Arrive late, leave early

If you arrive late to your spot, then you won’t disturb others who are already having dinner or getting ready to go to bed. Swiftly set your camp up and stay quiet.

Leaving early in the morning is also a good idea, since if you can be gone before others wake up it will be like you were never really there. If you can achieve this then you’re the ultimate wild camper, as you didn’t disturb a single person with your presence.

Keep fires contained

You might want to light a small campfire, which is totally understandable. Perhaps for warmth or to cook some food on. While lighting a fire while wild camping is technically fine, you need to be careful to keep it under control. 

Build a small fire circle out of stones to keep the embers contained. You should also build your fire on an area that will not be scorched, or that will not cause a fire that spreads such as a forest fire.

One method is to create a small divot in the ground by removing the top turf and creating your fire in this dip. And then, when you’ve finished, return the turf/soil to cover your scorched area.

Small groups

The more people there are in a camper group the more noise and light they emit. Because of this you should try to travel with less people, as that way you won’t disturb your surroundings as much. Plus, you don’t go camping to have a party, so having too many people isn’t ideal either way.

Where can you do wild camping in Devon?

In Devon, you can experience wild camping if you are very respectful of the local environment and keep your impact to the minimum. Exactly as we’ve outlined in this article.

The Dartmoor website explains where you can do wild camping with a handy map.

You can also find places to do wild camping on Exmoor using the Exmoor local guide.

Although technically wild camping on beaches is not allowed, many people do do it. You just need to make sure you’re following the guide here and being discreet.

We hope you’ve found this guide to wild camping useful. If you want to find romantic experiences in Devon, check out our guide.

Written By
Heidi Nemeth

I'm a professional content writer and journalist, specialising in lifestyle, the occult and mental health.

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