There have been calls for a major education programme and increased enforcement to prevent illegal wild camping in environmentally sensitive and protected coastal areas.
It follows the staging of a 'mini music festival' in the sand dunes behind Long Strand in West Cork, which are part of the Kilkeran Lake and Castlefreke dunes Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), protected under the EU Habitats Directive.
About 20 tents, two mini marquees equipped with musical sound equipment and lights were delivered to the site in a rental van. Wooden pallets were burned, and the area was left strewn with clothing, plastic, glass, metal drinks containers, broken pallets, cooking equipment, and human faeces and used toilet paper.
Illegal camping also occurred in dunes behind Ardnahinch Beach in the Ballycotton Bay SAC over the bank holiday weekend, with several tents abandoned and litter strewn across the dune system.
Wildlife photographer, Dan Lettice, said the illegal camping and antisocial behaviour in the Castelfreke dunes has always been an issue but has worsened over the last two summers.
“The SAC needs to be protected. The government is obliged to do so under European law and Irish law prohibits these destructive activities," he said.
“The council also needs to act and stop this under their bye-laws. If neither the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) or the council can act they need to request the gardaí to do so."
He said the NPWS erected extra signage in the dunes last year but some of the signs have been turned around and others removed.
Fianna Fáil TD Christopher O’Sullivan said a coordinated national approach involving the NPWS, local authorities and gardaí must be adopted to stamp out this illegal camping activity.
Apart from the public health issues which arise in the context of the Covid pandemic, he said many people just aren’t aware that they may be camping in environmentally protected and sensitive areas, and even less aware of the damage they could be doing.
“We need to monitor this activity and police it and either stamp it out or regulate it, otherwise it will have a detrimental impact on these SACs," he said.
“I’m not saying ‘don’t use the dunes’. I would be slow to put up rock armour or fences. It shouldn’t come to that.
“But there is a major education element to this.
“We should be seeking to manage the pedestrian activity and certainly the camping activity, and make people aware of the impact wild camping has on such areas.”