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July 2011 Issue
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Freedom camping law no substitute for education

The Freedom Camping Bill will enable councils to decide where camping is allowed an impose instant fines on rule-breakers.

Proposed legislation to help stamp out freedom camping has been given the thumbs down from environmental care group Leave No Trace (LNT) New Zealand.

LNT said the proposed law is a necessary step but that education, not legislation, will be the key driver to changing behaviour and addressing the environmental impact of freedom campers. LNT also believed that policing the proposed law is unfeasible because it would be impossible to resource policing in a meaningful way.

“Changing behaviour through legislation works in areas that can be policed effectively,” said Chris North, chair of Leave No Trace New Zealand. “In the outdoors, where authoritative presence is scant, it just isn’t realistic.

“We believe that creating understanding through education is a far more effective and valuable approach to addressing this issue. There is a place for this legislation, but unless limitations are acknowledged, we will continue to have this same debate for years.”

The Freedom Camping Bill will enable councils to decide where camping is allowed, where it is restricted to campervans with self-containment, and where it is prohibited. The Department of Conservation will be able to make similar decisions about the reserves it manages.

Research indicates around 73 per cent of freedom campers are international tourists and North said it would be challenging to expect them to adhere to rules and regulations without providing necessary support.

“Tourists come to New Zealand to enjoy the outdoors and the freedom here, they don’t come to these places to wreck them with rubbish and human waste,” he said. “The root of the problem lies with their expectations and lack of understanding. In many ways they are set up to fail through their pre-conceived ideas of what facilities will be available and the promotion of freedom camping as the way to see our country.”

The new law will provide for a $200 instant fine for illegal camping that may be imposed on the camper or the vehicle. New regulations will require campervan hire companies to record and disclose details so fines can be enforced. Fines up to $10,000 may be imposed by courts on a successful prosecution for illegally discharging a camper van’s sewage.

“If we educate people effectively, the vast majority of negative impacts on the environment would go away,” said North. LNT recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Conservation to tackle issues like the environmental impact posed by freedom campers.