A friend visited on Saturday (that’s another thing I’ve learned about getting a puppy: you suddenly become very popular) and we took a stroll down memory lane.
There’s a track at the bottom of the village that leads past my grandparents’ old house, the farm where my dad worked and the cottage we lived in through my primary school years.
I grew up understanding which fields had sheep with lambs in, the woods where the pheasants and partridges lurked and why you deserved the bollocking you were guaranteed if you were caught flattening that barley again.
I’m a teuchter to the bone is what I’m saying. So on Saturday we stuck to the edges, kept the dogs under control and carried our sweetie wrappers and poo bags back home with us.
We’re not saints, it’s just all I’ve ever known. And round here at least we’re not unusual. That right of way has been well tramped since the first lockdown and I’ve yet to see so much as a dropped crisp packet.
Maybe I should be glad our nondescript little village boasts nothing worth putting on a postcard because in some of the more scenic parts of Tayside and Fife locals are telling a very different story.
From the East Neuk to Kinloch Rannoch and Loch Earn to Lunan Bay, a peculiar and distressing side-effect of Covid-19 has emerged.
Any hopes that the problem would be a flash in the pandemic were put to rest as soon as the temperatures started rising
We didn’t even have a name for it last spring when the first lockdown put paid to package holidays, music festivals, city breaks and all the other tried and tested ways of letting your hair down after a hard week.
Before long though, every Monday morning The Courier was awash with tales of dirty campers heading to the countryside to set unauthorised fires, abandon supermarket tents and leave great piles of beer cans and disposable barbecues behind after long rowdy nights spent putting the fear of god up the natives.
Any hopes that the problem would be a flash in the pandemic were put to rest as soon as the temperatures started rising this year and some of the stories emerging from besieged communities make for grim reading.
At Balmerino, the Easter weekend was marred by gangs rampaging across locals’ gardens and dislodging stones from the ruins of the 13th century abbey.
At Carnoustie, campers vandalised the grounds of the 200 year-old Barry Mill, while at Loch Rannoch a pensioner’s dog nearly died after eating human waste believed to contain traces of illegal drugs.
Our environment team has been exploring the issue, visiting hotspots and spending time with the countryside rangers and police officers tasked with keeping the peace.
They’ve been shocked by both the scale of the disruption and the strength of feeling.
Residents are fearful and angry and, not surprisingly, they are demanding that something is done.
Where do you start though?
Writing in The Courier this week, Iain Gulland of Zero Waste Scotland stressed the need for partnership work on education and communication, as well as practical measures like more bins and camp grounds.
Communication might seem a wishy washy concept to people whose peace of mind is in tatters but it gets to the culture clash that is fuelling a lot of the unrest.
If someone is paid to sweep the streets or maintain the green spaces in your neighbourhood maybe you *do* expect someone else to pick up your rubbish.
If you’ve grown up surrounded by strangers maybe you’ve never had to think about how threatening a dozen mouthy teenagers appear to an 80 year-old woman in a settlement where the population has never topped three figures.
Enforcement may well feel like a more satisfying response, but it’s a tricky one. Parking bans in Perthshire were ignored last year and a bylaw requiring camping permits in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park has been credited with displacing the activity elsewhere.
Much of the problem behaviour is already punishable with antisocial behaviour orders, fines, or criminal charges.
But even supposing there were enough people to police the issue – and if you knew how many officers were on duty per square mile of rural Scotland on a weekend you’d probably never leave the house – it can be hard to gather evidence in out of the way areas.
Fragile rural economies can ill afford to deter responsible visitors as they attempt to recover from the Covid-19 shutdowns
How do you tell a legitimate wild camper from a dirty one until they’ve left the scene and who suffers most if we drive a deeper wedge between town and country?
Already fragile rural economies can ill afford to deter responsible visitors as they attempt to recover from the Covid-19 shutdowns.
We also have to take care that in cracking down on the selfish minority we do not chip away at Scotland’s cherished access rights.
Taken for granted
There’s a podcast I love called 99% Invisible. Most weeks it takes a subject I’ve never heard of before and by the end I want to know EVERYTHING about it.
And occasionally it presents something that is already familiar in a whole new light.
There’s an episode from 2018 about the right to roam. I listened again this week and it’s such a treat to hear the Californian host’s mind being blown by the idea that this privilege is enshrined in law here.
Sometimes it takes an outsider’s eye to make you realise how much you take for granted and how much you stand to lose if you allow it to be dismantled.