The Liddle Journalist

Campers dump cheap tents in national parks


By Calum Liddle
Published in the Scotland on Sunday

THEY have brought camping to the masses in search of a cheap weekend in the great outdoors.

But Scotland's national parks are now having to deploy extra rangers to deal with an epidemic of abandoned campsites – complete with cut-price supermarket tents, sleeping bags and other equipment – in beauty spots.

Officials in the Loch Lomond and
the Trossachs park and the Cairngorms are routinely discovering tents still erected but otherwise deserted by revellers who have gone home without clearing up. Other tents have been set alight and left to smoulder.

In some areas on the shores of Loch Lomond, rangers attempting to get across the responsible camping message have had to be accompanied by police to deter a violent or abusive reaction.

Bridget Jones, the visitor experience manager at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, said: "This is one of the most significant problems we have had to deal with in the last five years due to these incredibly cheap tents.

"Certainly this year we have had to provide an increased ranger presence in the park.

"This isn't a bit of litter, it's more a form of fly-tipping."

Tents were once an expensive commodity, but cheaper materials have now brought a drastic reduction in prices. Supermarket chain Asda is selling two-man tents for£10 and Tesco sells a camping set for £14.99 whic
h includes a two-man tent and two sleeping bags.

The Outdoor Access Code adopted by the Scottish Parliament was aimed at increasing the number of people, particularly from urban areas, visiting the countryside. But it has also led to more so-called "wild camping" in which visitors pitch their tents outside official sites.

One hotspot has become the east shore of Loch Lomond, which every weekend is becoming a temporary home for young males between the ages of 19 and 24 from across the central belt.

Jones said: "From a National Park Authority perspective we want to encourage people to come and enjoy the special qualities here, but it is also our job to reduce the incidents of antisocial behaviour and encourage responsible behaviour that will protect this special part of Scotland."

The park is now considering setting up its own "semi-formal" campsites "where we can provide firewood, compost and toilet facilities while folk can still have the same experience. Then we can actively educate, alongside the police, on appropriate camping."

David Richards, who owns the Immervoulin Caravan and Camping Park in Strathyre within the national park, said every weekend there are tents left behind. "Some of them are not even taken down," he said.

"The problem is much broader in the form of wild camping. People are pitching tents next to the vehicles, tearing up the national park and burning trees all for the sake of not paying a pitching fee."

The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) said: "There have always been occurrences of inappropriate camping in the Cairngorms National Park, long before the advent of the throwaway tent, but we are seeing some instances of all of the camping equipment being abandoned now as opposed to just litter – which is bad enough.

"The CNPA is working with land managers and ranger services to deal with camping hotspots and to encourage responsible camping."

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calum d liddle

Coming to a hedge near you: the shear pleasure of topiary

By Calum Liddle
Published in the Scotland on Sunday


IT IS a horticultural art form

that has graced the gardens of

stately homes for centuries.


Now topiary – the art of

clipping trees and shrubs into

ornamental sculptures – is

spreading from the great

houses of the nation into the

urban streets of Scotland.

Caterpillars, bears, dogs,

handbags and trains have all

been spotted taking shape

outside the nation's homes as

gardeners take up the challenge.

Sales of traditional topiary

shrubs are also soaring,

according to garden centres, as are purchases of special topiary shears used to fashion the eye-catching shrubbery.

Gardening experts said the rise in popularity was due to more people spending longer periods at home because of the credit crunch and a change in garden fashion.

Jim McColl, star of the BBC's Beechgrove Garden, said: "Topiary is certainly becoming more fashionable and popular. The beauty is you don't need a private gardener or a huge landscape to enjoy topiary and it's a lot easier than people would think."

Wire frames are now available to allow first-time topiarists to follow simple designs, McColl said. "The wire nets are available from garden centres for people to give it a try – whether it be a rabbit or a swan. It's all rather amusing and a lot of it is tongue-in-cheek."

Neil Fishlock, head of horticulture at Dobbies Garden Centres, said ornamental topiary shrubs were now a big seller. "We have had a sales increase of 129 per cent on topiary balls and pyramids this year. Sales of topiary shears have also risen by 14 per cent, compared with a year ago.

"The appeal of the clipped box is that it is formal and looks impressive at a front door, while being easy to keep and maintain. All you need to do is buy a pair of shears to keep the topiary bush neatly trimmed all year round, and you have a perfect doorstep plant."

One gardener at the forefront

of the topiary craze is Leonora

Williamson, who has a bear,

dog, pig and a small car

decorating her front garden in

Inveresk, East Lothian. She

saw a picture of a topiary

horse and jockey in a

magazine and decided to

experiment herself.


"I was cutting the hedge and just left some lumps which eventually started to take shape," she said. "The bear was intended to be a Buddha but I found it impossible to get the shape right. So I turned him into a bear instead."


In Edinburgh's Morningside, Liz Casciani has also become hooked. "I've just started doing a couple of very basic topiary pieces in the form of spheres," said Liz, who opens her garden to visitors to raise funds for charity.












"I've never actually done it before, but I can understand the appeal. They are indeed very elegant and statesmanlike. The sharp edges and surface catch your eye and show the care and attention that are put into running a garden."

Peter Wright, who lives in the city's Grange district, is a keen topiarist who has carved a caterpillar in his front garden.

"Boring hedges are for boring people," he said. "My caterpillar really brings a smile to people's faces and the kids, especially, love it."

Most clipped structures are made from common box (Buxus sempervirens), although other suitable species include holly, bay laurel, myrtle, privet and yew. Major garden shows, such as Chelsea Flower Show, have highlighted the growth of topiary over the last two years as gardeners reject the "wild" look in favour of more formal arrangements. Last year, leading garden designer Diarmuid Gavin's garden at Chelsea was dominated by vast balls of box hedge.

McColl's fellow Beechgrove

presenter Lesley Watson,

who works at Dougal Philip's

New Hopetoun Gardens in

West Lothian, believes

topiary appeals to those

who want to create a shape

out of a living structure.

She said: "I'm not surprised

it's on the increase. I think

it's a really easy thing to

do. People are worried about pruning something, but you're only keeping it to a ball or pyramid."

Hens and rabbit shapes are proving very popular, Watson added. "It's great fun and the more experienced gardener can handle a bicycle or a peacock.

"I was at Tatton Park in Cheshire where they had a footballer kicking his ball in topiary, so the humour and the fun side of it are definitely there for all to see. It gives admirers something to look at all year round."


Not just a pretty space

The ancient art of topiary, which means "ornamental gardening" in Latin, is recognised as first becoming popular in Roman gardens.

But it may date back to the time of the ancient Egyptians and the Persians. In both cultures an appreciation of form and function gave rise to a desire to see that widely represented within architecture. From this developed the formalised garden.

Further east from the valleys of the Nile, the creation of formal gardens reached magnificent proportions, and no greater than the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

With the decline and fall of the Roman Empire the art did not die out completely, but for almost a thousand years the art of topiary remained hidden behind the monastery wall. It wasn't until the coming of the Renaissance and the flowering of all forms of art that it spread again to the gardens of the wealthy.

The fashion revived again in the 19th century and the Victorian's ingenuity for gadgets and tools made it widely accessible.




By Calum Liddle and David Leask
Published in the Scotland on Sunday

SCOTLAND is enjoying its biggest boom in camping since Barbara Windsor lost her bikini top in 1969.
Tens of thousands of recession-hit Scots are this summer getting their first taste of holidays under canvas, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.

Bookings for camping and caravan sites across the country are up by between a fifth and a quarter on last year – hitting levels not seen since the simpler and more austere days of the Carry On films.

Some sites have told Scotland on Sunday they are so busy they have to turn away would-be campers.

Even the usually sedate Caravan Club said nearly half of its 27 big sites north of the Border were booked out this weekend and next as occupancy rates soar 21 per cent above their levels for 2008.

Its rival, the Camping and Caravanning Club, yesterday said its Scottish sites were brimming. Spokeswoman Dawn Henton said: "We have seen a boom in camping and caravanning this year, and many people are booking ahead to secure their perfect pitch.

"Forward bookings for Scottish sites have risen by almost 25 per cent since this time in 2008, which equates to over 12,000 bookings."

The club has seen a slightly smaller rise of 16 per cent across the UK, although English and Welsh families tend to take their summer break a month or so later than Scots.

Industry insiders yesterday said that the camping and caravanning sector was being given a huge lift by the floundering pound and ongoing fears of job losses. Holidaymakers are turning their backs on expensive package holidays to the Eurozone in favour of some more basic pleasures much closer to home.

David Richards, who owns the Immervoulin Caravan and Camping Park in Strathyre, near Callander, said his site was up 30 per cent on the year.

He said: "The credit crunch is helping us. Regulars come frequently and we're getting people who haven't been for five or six years. We're also getting a lot of people who we've been recommended to. Many have never camped before. They need somewhere that will look after them.

"We're getting a lot more English people, but it's still 90-odd per cent Scots."

Kath Campbell, co-manager of Braidhaugh Holiday Park in Crieff, which is fully booked at weekends, backed Richards. "We're certainly noticing more new clients," she said. "I'm hearing people saying 'It's all new to me', when booking in. Predominantly it's Scots, but we've had a small rise in foreign bookings too. The weak pound is certainly helping."

Travellers from the continent coming to Scotland now get about 30 per cent more for their Euro than they did last year.

Camping, meanwhile, is becoming the cool way to spend a holiday with major celebrities, like Kate Moss, putting their names to the pastime.

Tents, moreover, are cheap as holiday homes go. It is possible a two-man version can cost less than £10.

Tourism industry leaders, however, remain split over whether a camping boom is good for the economy or not. There are still no figures on occupancy at hotels and holiday cottages and flats. Some tourism chiefs prefer to see big-spending hotel-stayers than penny-counting campers. But the Caravan Club isn't so sure. Its 60,000 Scottish members can have an impressive impact. Over the whole of the UK, caravanners inject an average of £17 million into the economy every year.

Big camping and caravanning groups, meanwhile, said would-be holidaymakers shouldn't despair if they are struggling to find somewhere to stay. The Caravan Club stressed that there were still pitches to be had this summer, even at weekends. It also has dozens of "five-van" sites that have spaces.

The Camping and Caravanning Club stressed that its members can book smaller "certified" sites, often with just five pitches each. There are 40 in Scotland and they can take a family of four for as little as £40 a week, although facilities can be basic.

Scottish Government officials however, are also understood to think that the camping boom will do more good than harm.

A spokesman for VisitScotland, the national tourism agency, yesterday said: "There are a number of factors contributing to the high demand for camping and caravan holidays but perhaps most notably is the current economic environment and visitors looking for quality and value for money with Scotland providing both of these throughout the country.

"It is very encouraging to see sectors of tourist accommodation exceeding expectations in terms of bookings and underlines the resilience of Scotland's tourism industry."


Boring hedges are for boring people.



- Peter Wright, the Grange.