Borders MSPs call for action to tackle litter-lout campers

Borders MSPs Rachael Hamilton and Christine Grahame are calling for action to tackle the upsurge in litter being left strewn across Scotland’s countryside due to the ongoing rise in wild camping sparked by the coronavirus lockdown.

By Darin Hutson
Thursday, 13th August 2020, 3:50 pm
Updated Thursday, 13th August 2020, 4:03 pm
Litter left alongside St Mary's Loch by campers.
Litter left alongside St Mary's Loch by campers.

Both demanded during a topical question time debate on Tuesday, August 11, initiated by Edinburgh Pentlands MSP Gordon MacDonald that more be done to encourage holidaymakers visiting beauty spots such as St Mary’s Loch, west of Selkirk, but not using campsites to clean up their act.

Mr MacDonald asked Scottish Government rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing what is being done “to tackle so-called dirty camping in the light of more people looking to beauty spots such as the Pentland Hills for holidays this year” and was assured that both the police and local authorities were aware of that issue and trying to deal with it.

Mr Ewing, MSP for Inverness and Nairn, told him: “Scotland’s landscapes and natural environment are among our most precious assets.

Campers at St Mary's Loch this summer.

“Many people have taken the opportunity to enjoy them and the outdoors, particularly after such a sustained period of lockdown.

“Most people are doing so in a responsible fashion by obeying both the law and the terms of the access code.

“However, it is unfortunate that a small minority of people are spoiling that for others by endangering themselves, local communities and the environment.

“We are aware of a growing number of incidents and complaints about littering, antisocial behaviour and criminal damage.

“Such irresponsible behaviour is totally unacceptable.

“Police Scotland is alert to all these matters. It has already used powers to issue on-the-spot fines for antisocial behaviour, which, like littering and fly-tipping, is a criminal offence for which fixed penalties can be issued.

We partnered with Zero Waste Scotland and Keep Scotland Beautiful to develop a national anti-littering campaign launched on July 15.

“We are working with local authorities and Police Scotland on what more can be done to protect our environment and communities across Scotland.”

Mrs Hamilton, MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, shared Mr MacDonald’s concerns, saying: “Rural crime, which is on the rise, puts huge pressure on local communities.

“I accept what the cabinet secretary has said about conversations that have taken place with Police Scotland and local authorities, but what specific conversations has he had with the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime in order to tackle the scourge of so-called dirty camping, which, to my mind, is as bad an offence as fly-tipping?”

Mr Ewing assured her such talks are ongoing, adding: “We can all see that fly-tipping is a particularly selfish crime that causes real problems, particularly for farmers, and risks health.

“It really is time that Scotland rid itself of such littering, fly-tipping behaviour, which, although committed by a relatively small number of individuals, causes enormous damage and misery for many others.”

Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Ms Grahame also issued a call for action, saying: “There have been huge problems with dirty campers at Gladhouse Reservoir in Midlothian South in my constituency.

“Fires have been left unattended, trees have been hacked down, human waste has been left behind and verbal abuse has been directed at local people.

“Does the cabinet secretary think that the access code needs to be revisited, and should there be an increase in fines?”

Mr Ewing told her: “We have already increased the fines for littering. The spot fine was increased from £50 to £80 a few years back. I have also mentioned the maximum fine for fly-tipping, which is £40,000.

“However, Christine Grahame is quite right to raise the issue. I and other ministers have received many complaints about dirty camping, fly-tipping and other types of behaviour.

“I should say that, although the fixed penalty for littering is £80, if such an offence is prosecuted, the fine can be £2,500.

“Powers to deal with antisocial behaviour are also available to local authorities.

“To answer Ms Grahame’s specific question, my colleague Roseanna Cunningham has responsibility, along with Scottish Natural Heritage, for the access code.

“I know from my discussions with Ms Cunningham that she shares all those concerns.

“All of us feel that we must ensure that the penalties for such behaviour are of such a high level that they have the necessary deterrent effect.

“However, there is perhaps a wider cultural problem in Scotland with littering, which we just do not see in countries such as Norway, where there is scarcely a wrapping or an empty bottle to be seen on the streets anywhere.

“That cultural problem is for all of us, as individuals in our society, to address.”