Monday 20 January 2020

Pitched battle over 'wild camping' at Hook Peninsula

Campers and motorhomes at Hook Head
Campers and motorhomes at Hook Head
Campers and motorhomes at Hook Head

David Looby

The manager of Hook Lighthouse has defended wild camping in front of the iconic tower, after complaints about camper vans spoiling the views.

Cllr Martin Murphy raised the issue at a meeting of Wexford County Council, calling on the local authority to do something to resolve the issue.

Cllr Murphy said: `Camper vans are blocking the view of our scenic viewpoints along the coast. Over the past months people going to our beauty destinations have been looking at 30 or 40 camper vans. They are entitled to be there but I believe the public, who are going there to enjoy the view, are entitled to see it.'

Cllr Murphy said camper van owners set up tables outside the vans and while away lengthy periods blocking the view.

`In the past we have been told there were no alternative sites in the areas. There are caravan parks six or seven miles away.'

In a note to this newspaper entitled 'Seascape or Hook Head halting site?' Gerard O'Reilly said: 'The jewel in the crown of South Wexford tourist attractions has become a halting site for tourists in camper vans, caravans and tents. Why can't Wexford County Council ban parking on the sea front on Hook Head and encourage local land owners in the Fethard on Sea area with development grants to provide proper facilities for campers? The splendid sense of remoteness and unspoiled seascape that used to be on the peninsula is totally destroyed by unregulated camping. How I miss the days when the only things to be seen were the lighthouse, the little stone wall enclosed fields, the sea and the sky.'

In a letter defending the rights of camper van owners to park up where they like, Jim McCormack said motorhome tourism is vitally important to the Irish economy.

He said Cllr Murphy's assertion that motorhome owners should use campsites provided in the locality does more to harm motorhome tourism in the area than anything else.

'The 5,100 members of the Irish Motorhome Group I help administrate are less than impressed. Motorhomers don't need to use campsites, we have all the facilities on board. 100 litres of fresh water, shower, toilet, beds, solar panels for electric. Councillors are constantly harping on about tourism, and the need to get more money into the country, If I book my motorhome into a campsite, and pay sometimes up to €40 for everything per night (more on a bank holiday weekend), that's €40 I won't spend in the local economy, the campsite owners get it all. Is this fair?

If I am taxed, insured, and considerate with my parking, clean up after me, spend money in the local shops, bars and restaurants, can you tell me who benefits from me being moved on. The campsite owners do. If I like a town and want to explore and meet the locals, who benefits from me being moved on, the campsite owners do. Once I'm moved on and can't find somewhere to park up for the night, and am forced to use a campsite, who benefits, the campsite owners do.'

Mr McCormack said he has met motorhomers from France, Germany and as far away as Australia who come to Ireland to tour in their motorhomes and spend some much needed money in the local economies. 'Not sit in a campsite and spend hundreds of euro a week on campsite facilities which are not needed. Which they are often forced to do because of the lack of proper motorhome facilities in Ireland. In France, for example, Aire-de-service's in practically every town and village, sometimes charging €5-€10 but mostly free, because guess what, while parked in the towns and villages, they spend money in the shops, bars and restaurants.'

Hook Lighthouse Manager Ann Waters said she welcomes campers, be they arriving on the Hook Peninsula in motorhomes, caravans or with tents. She attributed the outcry about camper vans taking over the area to the long, hot summer we've been enjoying.

'I wouldn't have a problem with it at all. This area outside the walls has been used for wild camping for years. It's unusual this summer in that we have had such a hot summer so we've been getting a lot more camper vans and tents.

I honestly don't think caravan people are a problem at all.'

She said: 'I think it's unfortunate that Ireland is closing its doors to them as when people wild camp they have to go in to a campsite every three nights. They are usually older people or parents with small kids so they are valuable to the economy.'

Ms Waters said the wild campers don't cause any anti-social behaviour problems.

'I think it's a little bit of an over-reaction. People have bought the tents in Aldi and they pitch them here. We have regulars who come back and wild camp with us every year and use the cafe and do the tours and attend our events. Because they are wild camping we can't help them out.'

Addressing complaints concerning views being spoiled, Ms Waters said: 'Just step around the camper van.'

She said businesses in the Hook Peninsula and all along the coast are enjoying a great summer's trade, adding that campers of all varieties are a big factor in this.

'I don't think it should become a negative. We have so many unspoilt viewing areas along the peninsula.'

She said part of the development plans for Hook Lighthouse - which are ready to be put before Bord Fáilte - include a designated camper van and camping area near the lighthouse, adding that there is no update in relation to funding as of yet.

'We still welcome wild campers here at Hook Lighthouse and we would love to be able to look after them. I would hate to think we would be part of eliminating wild camping. I have spoken to caravan park owners who say they are extremely busy thanks to wild campers.'

Wexford People

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