How to wild camp in the UK without getting in trouble
If you want to go wild camping in the UK, you should consider both legality and feasibility. These are 2 different things and this article will explain the law and where you can actually camp despite the law.
You can wild camp anywhere in England and Wales, but it is regarded as illegal. In Scotland it is legal. Where and how to successfully wild camp is relatively easy if you know how.
First, we need to define wild camping…
- How to wild camp in the UK without getting in trouble
- What is wild Camping?
- Where can you legally wild camp in UK?
- Where can you actually wild camp in the UK?
- Can you get fined for wild camping in the UK?
- Why is wild camping illegal in the UK?
- Is it illegal to camp in the woods in the UK?
- Is it illegal to set up a tent in a park?
- Can I camp on the beach in the UK?
- Can you wild camp in national parks in the UK?
- Can I camp on open access land?
- Can you sleep anywhere in a camper van?
- Can you camp in your car in the Uk?
- What are the rules for wild camping?
- How do I find somewhere to wild camp
What is wild Camping?
I define this as sleeping in a place that is not a dedicated campsite. Generally this is in a tent or bivvy bag away from people and buildings. But wild camping can take many other forms like sleeping in a car or van on the roadside.
Where can you legally wild camp in UK?
Legally, you should only camp in England and Wales with the landowner’s permission. In Scotland, it is very different and you can pretty much camp anywhere as long as you follow some simple guidelines. I have written another article about wild camping in Scotland.
Except for some areas in Dartmoor, you will either be doing it with permission, or it will invlolve trespassing.
All land in England and Wales is owned by someone and you need the owner’s permission to be on it.
Using a campsite is the obvious way to gain permission, but it can also be as simple as asking a landowner if it’s OK to spend the night. Very often you will be allowed to if you are smart about who you ask and how you come across to them.
Asking a pub if you can pitch your tent in the garden is a good bet if you are going to eat in the pub.
Campers who ask if it’s OK, often use my village green. We ask for a small donation, and the campers have a wild camping spot without having to worry about being caught.
Where can you actually wild camp in the UK?
This is where it gets more interesting and fun. Where you can actually wild camp is a totally different story, and the “illegality” of it is not really an obstacle.
What is the offence you commit when wild camping?
Trespass. That’s it, you are a trespasser on the owner’s land. And the good news is that those signs you occasionally see that say “trespassers will be prosecuted” are not really true.
What happens if you get caught wild camping?
If you are caught trespassing, and you leave when asked to by the owner or the police, you have not committed an offence. Provided you have caused no damage and not abused anyone, you are fine. Just politely leave and all is well.
What if you just leave when asked to?
In reality, if you are unfortunate enough to be asked to leave by someone – just leave politely and apologise. This is the worst-case scenario, and it’s not too terrible. It’s inconvenient, that’s all. If it happens in the morning, you have lost nothing.
It’s a natural fear, but after a while you get used to it and realise that it actually never happens if you are sensible. Leave no trace and do no damage.
So, in reality, you can camp anywhere you like as long as you don’t get caught. Or, if you get discovered, you politely leave. If you are sensible about where you camp, there is rarely an issue – as no one knows you are there.
If you pitch late and leave early, you are so unlikely to get discovered that it opens up the tremendous freedom of wild camping.
Can you get fined for wild camping in the UK?
No. Your only offence is that of trespass and that is a civil offence and you cannot be prosecuted for it.
If you have caused damage, you will be expected to pay for it. No damage, no cost.
If you refuse to leave or come back, it is a different matter and can be seen as aggravated trespass. I’m not a lawyer, so won’t comment on that. It’s not going to happen if you instantly leave if asked to.
Leave no trace and you will have no problem.
Why is wild camping illegal in the UK?
Wild camping is not illegal. Trespass is, but it’s only a civil offence that you can’t get arrested or fined for.
They amended the vagrancy act of 1824 in 1935.
I’m not a lawyer and can’t give legal advice, but this amendment excludes the wild camper from an offence of vagrancy.
The whole thing is in the process of being repealed as of 28^th^ of April 2022, anyway.
Is it illegal to camp in the woods in the UK?
Camping in the woods is the same as camping anywhere in England and Wales. It is private land and you are trespassing if you don’t have the permission of the landowner.
This could well be Forestry England or a private owner. In practice, camping in a small woods next to a farm is looking for trouble. The farmer or gamekeeper could easily stroll around and find you. Hopefully, you would just be asked to leave, but it means you then need another spot.
I favour Forestry England type woods as the chances of someone in authority turning up is next to zero. If they do, they are just doing their job and are likely to explain the situation, and ask you to leave. This is not going to happen in the middle of the night as employees are at home in bed.
Is it illegal to set up a tent in a park?
A park is private land, and it is not permitted to camp there without permission. This is the last place I would ever put up a tent without permission. Someone will complain and an official is highly likely to move you on. You will not have committed an offence unless you refuse to move on or take it down. If I wanted to test pitch a tent for 10 minutes, I’d still ask.
Can I camp on the beach in the UK?
The same rules apply to the beach and you will probably not get permission to camp on the beach from the landowner – it’s likely to be the crown, as they own around half the foreshore. That is the land between high and low water.
Above the high water mark, it could well be the local council or the adjacent landowner.
There is a loophole to camping on the beach if you are fishing. It only applies to the land between high and low water, so you need to know your tides. You can camp here if you pitch as the tide goes out and leave before it gets back and drowns you. I’m not sure what defines fishing, but I figure if I have a fishing rod, I’m fishing.
In practice, beaches are often lined with anglers camping overnight. The chances of getting moved on because you don’t have a rod are slim.
Who would be policing that? Worst case – you have to move on.
Can you wild camp in national parks in the UK?
All the land in a national park will be privately owned, and you need permission to camp. However, many national parks have a tolerance for wild camping in the hills, if conducted sensibly. That doesn’t mean a ranger won’t move you on, but if you are discreet and above the enclosed pasture land, you should be fine. As ever, leave no trace. If you are asked to move on, do so. You have no right to camp there.
The exception to this is some areas of Dartmoor and all of Scotland.
Can I camp on open access land?
Whilst you have the right to roam on open access land, you have no more right to camp there than on any other private land. I am less inclined to camp in these areas, as I believe they are often more likely to be policed.
Can you sleep anywhere in a camper van?
Whilst wild camping in a van is not strictly wild camping in my mind, it is actually something that you can generally do legally. You need to understand the rules, though.
On private land such as a carpark, the landowner has every right to say you can’t spend the night in your vehicle.
On the side of the road or in a lay-by is a different story. Whilst you have no implicit right to sleep in a vehicle, there are no laws prohibiting it. An exception is where there is a local bylaw. If this is the case, then there needs to be a sign stating that it is not permitted and stating the relevant act that prohibits overnight camping in a vehicle.
Be aware that it is an offence to face the wrong way unless it is a designated parking bay. It is also an offence to be drunk. You must also not be causing an obstruction.
Never park in a passing place.
Don’t set up camp with awnings and chairs, etc.
It is highly unlikely that you will get moved on if you park sensibly. Why? Because there is no technical reason that anyone can make you.
Having said that, if someone was unhappy with where I was parked, I would definitely move.
Can you camp in your car in the Uk?
Wild camping in a car is no different to sleeping in a camper van. You may sleep in your car beside the road.
What are the rules for wild camping?
There are no formal rules, but the following are essential guidelines to follow.
- LEAVE NO TRACE.
- Don’t use fires and protect against fire.
- Pitch late and leave early.
- Stay for only one night.
- Follow this guide when going to the toilet.
- LEAVE NO TRACE.
- Move on if asked to do so.
- Consider others and don’t camp where you can be seen.
- LEAVE NO TRACE
How do I find somewhere to wild camp
If you want to wild camp, then go for it is my advice. Note what I have written above and find a nice discreet place away from people and give it a go. If you are asked to move, then do so.
Follow these guidelines and you should have a great night.
Remember – LEAVE NO TRACE. This is the number one rule for wild camping.
I have deliberately not listed places to camp in this guide, as it is asking for them to become overrun with campers. There are many well-known locations which you can research to find, but I urge you to find your own wild places to enjoy.