The Roman Road at Bishops Canning Barrows, North Wessex Downs
All roads lead to Rome… especially the Roman ones (Bishops Canning Barrows, North Wessex Downs)

Welcome to the ‘Free Camping’ project!

From 2007, the Free Range Network ran a very fun project; ‘The Great Outdoors’. It sought to teach the skills of low impact living and energy descent by taking people camping. In 2011, against the enforced austerity following the financial crash, people didn’t want to go away for weekends to learn how to live with less… they could do that at home for free!

Now it’s time to re-imagine that project for today’s troublesome realities: That not only has the slow-motion collapse of ‘modernity’ begun (arguably, with the events leading to the Crash of 2008); but also, it is clear from the reaction of the world’s most powerful states – Britain in particular – that they have no intention of changing their outlook to address this problem.

The are many new directions we want to take this project from its origins fifteen years ago: It needs to be more ‘political’, reflecting the essential issue of land rights as part of the activities – which existing ‘wild camping’ and outdoors media mostly ignore; likewise, it needs to internalise the very real issue of the ecological crisis, and why the transition to a low impact/low consumption society will have to come far sooner than most environmental lobbies are discussing – certainly well before 2050.

The Free Network's ‘The Stick-Fire Cooking Grate’
The Stick-Fire Grate, our D-I-Y cooking grate.

This group of pages explains the background to the project, with extensive links to other resources on the issues discussed. The ‘The Stick Fire Cooking Grate’ and ‘The Great Outdoors’ sections carry-over the work from the last project. We hope to build-up the resources of the ‘Free Camping’ site over 2022 & 2023… once we’ve organised some camping workshops, lockdowns permitting!

Why the "free camping" project?

There is a popular joke that is, unfortunately, painfully true: Take any outdoor, traditional ‘working class’ activity, and you can redefine it for a ‘middle class’ consumer demographic by putting the word “wild” in front of it. From ‘wild swimming’, to ‘wild food’, to ‘wild camping’, in recent years what were low cost and low impact activities have been redefined for a more affluent audience – and with it, the impact of those activities on the planet has risen.

What “rewilding” has done is preserve the core of what the activity entails, but divorce it from the historic struggle of land rights, of local indigenous cultures, and the politics inherent in the history of British land struggles. It refines the activity for a modern consumer audience, the essential feature of which is to exclude any discussion of political history, or the present-day economic hegemony within which it is framed, from its modern-day practise.

This is at the heart of what consumer culture does: Isolating the activity from its historic roots; de-skilling it in order to make certain ‘proprietary’ goods or materials essential; and so creating a dependency on ‘the product’ being marketed.

We want to turn that entire model on its head:

The prehistoric ‘Jurassic Way’ demarcating the border of Oxfordshire and Warwickshire.
The prehistoric ‘Jurassic Way’, as it demarcates the border of Oxfordshire and Warwickshire on its way from Lincolnshire to Stonehenge.

We believe camping should be “free”:

Picking rosehips to make rosehip tea
Picking rosehips to make
rosehip tea.

Right now this is an essential, life-critical issue: In a political culture which will not accept ecological limits, and prepare for the inevitable collapse of the current economic model as the human system breaches those limits, it’s only by following such practices that the ‘average’ person can practically prepare for this eventuality.

Learning the skills of simple living and resilience by being outdoors, using simple (where possible own-made) equipment and supplies, is by far the easiest and cheapest way for the nation to prepare for that. This individual necessity to preserve life and well-being trumps any claim to ‘private rights’ over the land.

Yes, there have been land access campaigns in England and Wales for many years; and our too-ignored history is littered with examples of this for almost 1,000 years. The fact is, compared to the battles that were (literally) fought almost a century ago, those recent campaigns were ‘illusory’, based upon: A discussion of land rights; or the access to the land; or land redistribution. They have not resulted in any perceptible change in outcomes – with the exception of Scotland, where legal recognition of ancient land rights was secured in 2003, and is now being gradually extended to community-level economic control of the land.

To create change people need to actually ‘do something’; and in our view, walking, camping, cooking food over stick-fires, playing musical instruments, and just enjoying a ‘disconnected’ time from modern society in small groups, is the most direct route to creating this change.

A surreptitious freecamp in the hills
A surreptitious freecamp in the hills

For the ‘average’ person, the inevitable outcome of current economic and resource trends, within the next two to three decades, is an uncontrolled contraction in the consumer society. What we are proposing is that people practically spend time outdoors, seeking to develop a set of skills that will enable them to transition to a low-impact/low-resource way of life. These were the skills that, for centuries, sustained our ancestors in this land. Now is the time to resurrect them, to preserve some semblance of a manageable life in the future.

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