This article aims to answer this simple question on the very complex and divisive subject of wild camping. We will address the legal aspects only. We will not make any attempt to comment on what is ‘ok’ or ‘accepted practice’ in a specific part of the country. It is for anyone who wants to know if they can wild camp on private land legally in a campervan in the UK.
The Definition of Wild Camping in a Campervan
The first thing to establish is that wild camping in a campervan does not exist in legal terms. It is neither legal nor illegal because there is no definition of wild camping in a campervan by law. Wild camping is a term that applies to people camping in tents. It does not apply to someone in a vehicle.
People who park in a vehicle, whether it is a campervan or motorhome where they do not have the permission of the landowner are, in fact, trespassing. Anyone in the UK (including Scotland) who believes they are wild camping in a vehicle are trespassing. Note that the Scottish Outdoor Access Code does not apply to vehicles so you have no right to roam or wild camp as you would if you were on foot.
Can a Landowner Remove a Trespasser?
Being classed as a trespasser for some is a difficult pill to swallow. However, the good news is that trespassing is a civil wrong and not a criminal offence. This means that you cannot be prosecuted for it. The landowner does, however, have a right under Common Law to remove you. This is where it gets complicated. First the landowner must ask you to leave. Then, after allowing an appropriate amount of time they can remove you from the land by a ‘reasonable amount of force’. Legal opinion generally considers this as a maximum of a guiding hand on the arm if you are acting peacefully and respectfully.
Can the Police Remove a Trespasser?
The powers available to the authorities for dealing with trespassers are detailed in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 Section 61.
(1) If the senior police officer present at the scene reasonably believes that two or more persons are trespassing on land and are present there with the common purpose of residing there for any period, that reasonable steps have been taken by or on behalf of the occupier to ask them to leave and —
(a) that any of those persons has caused damage to the land or to property on the land or used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards the occupier, a member of his family or an employee or agent of his, or
(b) that those persons have between them six or more vehicles on the land, he may direct those persons, or any of them, to leave the land and to remove any vehicles or other property they have with them on the land.
This means that if (a) or (b) in the paragraph above does not apply to you then you cannot be forced to move by the police. Of course, any reasonable person would move on if requested by the landowner or the police.
Can a Landowner Take Civil Action Against a Trespasser?
Be aware that a landowner can still take civil action against anyone for damages incurred. However, this only applies if you have caused them to suffer financial hardship or any physical damage to their property. If this is not the case then it is unlikely that they could sue you successfully.
What Other Laws can be Broken?
When venturing on to private land you may inadvertently break other laws. Did you know that driving a vehicle off road is an offence under the Road Traffic Act 1988 (Section 34). However, you are permitted to drive up to 15 yards from the road if parking the vehicle.
The following activities could also land you in trouble with law:
- Dropping litter.
- Polluting surface or ground water with polluting matter or solid waste matter.
- Vandalism which could be caused by lighting a fire and scorching the ground.
Final Word – Wild Camping or Trespassing?
In summary, wild camping in a vehicle does not exist. The question should be “Is it legal to trespass in the UK?”. Trespassing is not a criminal offence. Landowners can remove you under their Common Law rights. The police can remove you under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 Section 61.
As stated previously this article does not discuss any aspect of parking on private land that is not a legal one. This post does not aim to encourage or discourage this type of action, but merely help people understand their legal position.
Do you have a question? Please feel free to leave a comment below.