The law I’ll discuss applies only to England and Wales. The Scots have a more relaxed law relating to wild camping, having the view that most folk who wild camp are sensible country lovers who’ll clean up after themselves.
However, in England and Wales the law is un-clear and a hotch-potch of unrelated offences that could be cobbled together to make wild camping a criminal offence. The Vagrancy Act 1824 is still in force but is due to be scrapped. Under that soon to be repealed act, there is certainly sufficient grounds for a wild camper to be arrested.
The act was actually brought in to stop the injured survivors of the Napoleonic Wars from displaying their injuries for alms. It makes it a criminal offence to sleep outside in a public area. If you have a fixed abode then you fall outside of the act, but it is for you to prove you have a home.
If you wild camp on a motorcycle and wander off the road or a byway, then you are committing an offence under the Road Traffic Act merely by taking your bike off piste by more than 15 yards. Pitching camp on a byway or in a way which obstructs people with your motorcycle also constitutes an offence under the Road Traffic Act.
However, the real police power to move you comes if an officer can reasonably say your vehicle is causing distress, alarm or nuisance to another person. My view is, if you camp near buildings or homes, the officer would be correct. If you’re on a wild Welsh mountainside, not so much.
Untidy or dirty wild camping most definitely creates various offences, but if you are a dirty camper, you deserve all you get. If you are not causing a distress or nuisance, I’m struggling to find a method by which the police can do anything much at all on public land. If you travel in a group of more than six and police can form the impression you are not bugging out the next morning, then powers designed for use against the traveller community could be used.
Much land in England and Wales is privately owned. If a person who appears to be the land owner or their agent (as opposed to a busybody) asks you to move and you do not, then you have moved from the civil wrong of trespass to the more serious criminal offence of aggravated trespass. If you resist the reasonable force of the landowner ejecting you, and you are alone, then aggravated trespass, which carries a custodial sentence, is made out.
At its simplest, you have no English or Welsh right to wild camp, but nor are you actually committing an offence. However, the moment you’re challenged, then you open up a legal minefield unless you meekly pack up your stuff with an apology and disappear away.
Adventure Bike Rider May / June 2022