A REPORT showing more than 800 people have fallen foul of controversial camping laws in Scotland’s busiest national park has been seized on by outdoors enthusiasts as evidence campers are being criminalised and that the problems of the park have not been solved.

A report prepared for Scottish Ministers revealed 828 people were issued with warnings by police or Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park rangers for alleged contraventions of new laws on camping the park.

During the first year of the bye-laws, 10 cases were reported to the Crown Office relating to unauthorised camping, firelighting, refusing to provide details and refusing to leave when asked to do so.

The bye-laws, which are in place between March and September, restrict camping along much of the shores of Loch Lomond as well as on busy loch shores near Aberfoyle, Strathyre and Lochearnhead.

Park authorities say the four camping management zones – which cover less than four per cent of the park’s area – are needed to tackle long-standing problems with antisocial behaviour, litter and environmental damage. But they were fiercely opposed by outdoor recreation groups and campaigners for access rights.

The rules mean those who want to camp have to buy a permit or use official sites.

The report reveals that while more than 16,000 people used the official system, the average occupancy rate across all the camping permit areas was only 15 per cent, and 22 per cent at Loch Chon campsite.

Challenges identified in the report by the park for future years include the monitoring of potential displacement of campers to other nearby areas, the level of resources needed to maintain the bye-laws in the long term, and continuing problems with litter and human waste. Helen Todd, campaigns and policy manager at Ramblers Scotland, which opposed the laws, said: “This new report shows that these costly bye-laws are deterring people from camping, criminalising responsible campers and failing to resolve many of the issues they were designed to tackle.

“It’s a great shame that more than £1.1 million has been spent over two years on a strategy that has led to an average of just 15 per cent of camping permit sites being used each night, and which has penalised hundreds of people who wanted to camp in this beautiful part of Scotland.

“We continue to call for the bye-laws to be withdrawn, and for issues with anti-social behaviour and over-use of camping spots to instead be tackled by educating people, enforcing existing laws and providing toilets, bins and low-cost campsites.”

Gordon Watson, the park’s chief executive, said the camping bye-laws were introduced to protect the park’s loch shores and improve the experience for visitors.

He said: “From the positive feedback we’ve gathered through the visitor survey, to what our rangers have experienced by talking to campers on the ground during the first season, we are really pleased with how things have gone.

“Nearly 15,000 people camped in the new permit areas and more than 2000 at our new campsite at Loch Chon.

“Surveys were sent to everyone who camped and, as well as getting a strong response rate, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

“Some 87 per cent of respondents said they would be likely to recommend staying in a permit area to others, while 92 per cent said they would be likely to recommend the Loch Chon campsite.

“The approach of our ranger service is always engagement and education first, with enforcement action only being taken as a last resort.

“That approach has worked well, with the vast majority of campers choosing to adhere to the bye-laws.

“While warnings were issued, the number was small in proportion to the overall number of visitors and only a very small number of people were then reported to the procurator fiscal.”