Last updated: 12/8/2022
Is wild camping legal in the UK? While the all-encompassing facilities of a UK campsite or holiday park may be the preferred choice for some, many van lifers are drawn to a more wild approach, away from the rules and boundaries of a holiday park. Having studied the rules and consulted with the experts, Van Life Matters talks UK wild camping.
What is wild camping?
Wild camping, as far as van life is concerned, involves setting up camp outside of a traditional campsite or holiday park.
Van life wild camping with heating, USB charge points, fairy lights, duvet and pillows may not be strictly wild by definition, but it’s a concept that makes sense when you already have all the facilities you’ll need in your campervan.
Is wild camping legal in the UK?
Wild camping in any vehicle is not legal anywhere in the UK without the landowners express permission.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 has strengthened police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments which cause “damage, disruption or distress”.
The recently introduced Act has made it a criminal offence to reside with a vehicle on land without permission and includes a new power of arrest and the power for police to seize the vehicle.
The offence will be committed if a person who resides or intends to reside with a vehicle on land fails to leave the land or remove their property without reasonable excuse when asked to do so and they have caused, or are likely to cause, significant damage, disruption, or distress.
Punishment for wild camping in a vehicle
The maximum penalty will be three months’ imprisonment or a fine not exceeding level 4 (£2,500) on the standard scale, or both.
The arrest and vehicle seizure powers can be used when a trespasser has met the conditions of the offence and not left the land when asked to do so without reasonable excuse.
It is for the police to decide on proportionate enforcement action based on the circumstances and evidence of each case.
In its policy paper, the Home Office states that the offence does not apply where no harm is caused, ensuring that a person will not be criminalised for their mere presence on the land.
Can I wild camp in a campervan?
So where does this leave you? Can you wild camp in the UK?
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 is framed in such a way as to ensure that the rights of those wishing to enjoy the countryside are not impacted.
The policy paper states that you won’t be criminalised for wild camping in a campervan, provided you do not cause damage, disruption or distress while residing on land without permission.
What are the rules for wild camping?
Wherever you choose to wild camp, ensure you stick to the countryside code and follow these general rules:
- Respect ‘no camping’ signage: Staying overnight in a parking spot which has ‘no camping’ signage is not only disrespectful but it gives all campervan and motorhome owners a bad name.
- Be considerate: Try to keep inconspicuous where possible. Avoid parking outside residential property and, if you spot another camper, avoid parking too close.
- Don’t overstay your welcome: Don’t stay in one place for too long. The best advice is to arrive at your stopover location late and leave early.
- Leave no trace: Use a stove rather than a campfire, take your rubbish home and take care of your business properly (more on that to follow).
Wild camping toilet etiquette
Sooner or later, you’ll need to think about going to the toilet when wild camping.
If you’re lucky enough to be close to public toilets, it’s problem solved – you can find a map of UK public toilets online here.
If you’re going to go wild camping, you should ensure your campervan has toilet facilities onboard for when you’re not able to use a public convenience.
This could take the shape of a traditional campervan toilet, such as a portable cassette toilet, or you could go down the route of a more eco-friendly compostable portable toilet.
Alternatively, consider using a biodegradable waste kit which are widely available online and in some outdoor leisure shops.
Is wild camping safe?
As with anything, if you speak to enough people, sooner or later you’re going to hear some horror stories.
The reality is though, these are few and far between.
Adding to the rules of wild camping above, there’s a few van life practices that you should adopt for peace-of-mind:
- Make sensible preparations for all weathers:
- Plan ahead: Have your route planned and several options for places to stay overnight.
- Position your vehicle for an easy get-away: Face your vehicle in the direction that you need to drive-off and leave enough room behind it, in case you need to manoeuvre around an obstacle.
- Use common sense: Don’t park on the edge of a crumbling cliff face or somewhere that’s prone to flash-flooding if rain is forecast, for example.
- Make sensible preparations for all weathers: Ensure you’re able to stay warm and dry (or cool and watered).
- Think about supplies: Have a well kitted-out first aid kit, torch and whistle within easy reach.
- Security: Consider your security options for your campervan or motorhome.
- Tell someone where you’re going and for how long: This is especially important if travelling alone.
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