MORE than 20 people have been charged in relation to irresponsible camping and environmental damage in Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park over the first weekend after travel restrictions were lifted.

Despite the wet weather, campers left significant amounts of litter, including large items of camping equipment such as chairs and sleeping bags, broken glass and full bin bags of rubbish, and caused irreparable fire damage to trees and the ground in a number of locations around the National Park.

At one site 19 bags of litter were collected and 10 at another, while at a separate site, Coilessan, near Arrochar, a tree was so badly damaged by fire it may need to be felled.

National guidance was issued last week asking people not to go camping until the July 15, but 21 individuals have been charged since Friday under the Camping Management Byelaws 2017, which cover certain areas of the National Park creating Camping Management Zones between March and September each year.

Within these zones, people can only camp in a campsite or a pre-booked camping permit area. All National Park Authority campsites and camping permit areas remain closed due to Covid-19 in line with Scottish Government guidance.

The byelaws are enforced by both National Park Rangers and Police Scotland and can result in a fine of up to £500.

READ MORE: Council urges caution as Helensburgh and Lomond toilets and car parks re-open

Gordon Watson, chief executive of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, said: “It’s devastating to see the images of the litter and damage caused by people camping over the weekend. Not only is this irresponsible behaviour and environmental damage a blatant breach of the byelaws, it is also happening at a time when the national guidance is that people shouldn’t be going camping at all.

“While I can understand people’s desire to get out and enjoy the outdoors after such a long time being in lockdown I cannot understand why anyone would think it’s ok to destroy the place they’ve visited in this way. We cannot replace nature easily, or at the speed we are seeing it destroyed.

“It’s infuriating for those living in the local communities in the National Park to see this kind of behaviour on their doorstep and it’s incredibly frustrating for the National Park Authority, and in particularly our Rangers who come across these scenes, to have to divert valuable time and resources to cleaning up the mess left behind by others, especially right now when we want to be focusing all of our efforts on ensuring people can return to enjoy the National Park safely.

“The message is clear, people should not be camping right now and we are working extremely closely with our partners in Police Scotland to take action against this type of damaging behaviour when we need to.”

Chief Inspector Gill Marshall said: "Between Friday, July 3 and Sunday, July 5, a total of 21 people were charged with breaches of the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Camping Management Byelaws.

"These offences related to the setting up of unofficial camps, setting fires, and causing damage to the environment, including fire damage to trees which occurred across South Loch Earn, Loch Venacher and the Loch Ard area. There were also unacceptable levels of littering.

READ MORE: No re-open date for Hill House in Helensburgh - but Geilston Garden is back open

"We want everyone to enjoy the experience of the National Park and this has been the case for the majority. Unfortunately, a small number of visitors have failed to respect the local environment and community.

"We will continue to work tirelessly with our colleagues in the National Parks to address these issues through joint patrols and would urge members of the public to report any instances of antisocial behaviour or other offences they see while visiting the Park."

The Scottish Government guidance is that there should be no camping in tents, where campers would have to rely on shared facilities, or in the wild, since this is not ‘booked’ in advance so numbers cannot be managed.

Those who want to camp in tents in the wild, or in campsites using shared facilities, are asked to wait until it is confirmed that Scotland’s tourism sector can re-open. The Scottish Government hope to do this from next Wednesday.

The provisional date for re-opening of National Park campsites and permit areas is July 17, subject to the Scottish Government confirming their proposed date for all tourism accommodation re-opening from July 15.

Click here for all the latest Helensburgh and Lomond headlines