Friendly approach working well

Free ranging . . . Clutha District Council freedom camping officer Ian Royle provides visiting Stewart Island freedom camper Tamara Hallett with some camping literature during a routine check›up at the Owaka freedom camping site last week. PHOTO: RICHARD DAVISON

A local ranger believes ‘‘friendly enforcement’’ is the key to successfully managing freedom camping.

Clutha District Council freedom camping officer Ian Royle has been the formal face of authority dealing with mobile visitors to the area for the past two years, and says most people simply want to do the right thing.

Manchester›born Mr Royle, a former aviation security officer, said adopting a conversational, information›sharing approach was central to ensuring freedom campers complied with local rules, while still enjoying their stay.

‘‘You could go in guns blazing waving an infringement notice, but that immediately puts you at odds with people,’’ he said.

‘‘I always begin by having a conversation, hearing their story and checking if there’s anything I can help them with, and nine times out of 10 that leads naturally to them asking me if they’re in the right place, and following the rules.’’

He said issues with human waste and antisocial behaviour, although highly visible when they did occur, were rare, and unfairly gave all freedom campers a bad name.

‘‘There are a few irresponsible individuals that do cause issues, human defecation being the worst, even in sight of usable public toilets.

‘‘This included two occasions where private gardens were used.

‘‘There’s a misconception that foreign tourists cause the most issues, but Covid and the closing of New Zealand’s borders have shown us that similar issues have continued throughout.

‘‘In my experience the foreign visitors I come across are usually doing things correctly.

‘‘The irresponsible are from no one particular group.’’

Common sense played a large part in applying regulations, he said.

He said a recent routine check›up was a case in point, when he discovered Stewart Island resident Tamara Hallett, visiting the Owaka freedom camping site in her sister’s campervan, had an out›of›date self› containment certification.

A visual inspection revealed that it was in fact self›contained, and compliant.

‘‘So here I’ve had a friendly chat with the lady, advised her of the expired certification, and explained what she or the vehicle owner needs to do next.

‘‘We reserve infringement notices only for the most severe or repeat offending.

‘‘At the end of the day, we want all visitors to enjoy their stay in Clutha, spread the word, and come back again in future.’’

As information about the correct way to freedom camp continued to spread, alongside clearer laws expected soon from Parliament, Mr Royle said he believed remaining issues would soon diminish.

‘‘Responsible campers are becoming more aware that we are here to keep the district a safe and attractive place for them to visit.

‘‘Education is as important as enforcement.’’