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The Right to be Publicly Naked – part 1

The First Global Naturist Forum has recently been held and it is a testament to the health of naturism that over 200 people spent a weekend considering the state of naturism and the challenges for the future of naturism.

The first session defined a clear difference between Naturists – referred to as ethical naturists elsewhere ( – and those whose naturism is a casual affair to be enjoyed on holiday or on occasion – referred to as Recreational naturists. We might also, perhaps, ascribe the terms ‘all year naturist’ and ‘summer naturist’.

The rise of the dedicated naturist holiday venue has provided the term ‘commercial naturism’ and the first thought is to class recreational naturists as the consumers of commercial naturism. In France, one of the pioneers of commercial naturism, there are a lot of small naturist places whose first thought is to cater for naturists and provide natural surroundings and more modest accommodation, so there is no clear cut differentiation between ethical and recreational naturists. The fact that both exist is complementary and increases the number of places that naturism can be enjoyed.

The fact that this differentiation is deemed important presumably harks back to the early days of naturism when organisations like the INF were able to provide a reference that would allow bona-fide naturists to be accepted across Europe, long before any commercial venues were even conceived. In the UK the differentiation was that real naturists are members of sunclubs and individual supporters were those not accepted by sunclubs on the grounds of some discriminatory selection or another. Two separate national naturist organisations existed until a merger in 1964 created the now British Naturism and the member/supporter difference was settled – at least subscriptions from either were permitted.

The Global Forum set out to discuss the Future of Naturism. The first question might have been whose naturism are we talking about? Membership of British Naturism stands at the about the level it was in 1970 and there are a considerable number of naturist clubs still in existence – sadly the number is much depleted in the south east corner of England where I live. In the 21st century we found out that the number of people experiencing nude recreation is in the order of millions in the UK. It is reported that clubs of all sorts are declining in numbers and in regards to naturism, many people who like to go nude would not consider themselves as naturists at all.

That people can be naked in public in the England and Wales is down to the UK government who in 2003 repealed the laws that proscribed nudity and subsequently made amendments to clarify the new law. Of course, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service continued from time to time to attempt the prosecution of naturists for simply going naked. Quite recently individuals have liaised with police officials and achieved the recognition that naturists going about their normal lawful activities will not be prosecuted under the variously applicable laws. What has been achieved is therefore a general exemption for naturists that needs to be tested in each case.

The other change in the law was in 2010 whereby local councils right to create byelaws to “regulate, so far as decency requires, the costumes to be worn by bathers” that was created by the Public Health Act 1936, was repealed. That is, the local authority cannot enforce the type of bathing costume, or indeed that costumes are worn. It doesn’t mean, of course, that you have the right to be naked on the beach.

You might be interested to learn that whether people have the right to be on the beach at all, and then the right to swim from it, is not yet determined. It was discussed in the Supreme Court in 2015 when East Sussex Country Council and Newhaven Town Council wanted to establish a beach as a village green and you can read the determination here - . There is no legal right, but there may be a common law right and it all hinged on a case from 1821 – although luckily when looking at the crowding on Camber beach this last summer we don’t all need to take a horse and carriage with us to swim any more. An interesting aside here is that the common law right of custom and usage seems to require usage from time immemorial – which apparently means 1189! So unofficial naturist beaches have no status in law – but neither do official naturist beaches!


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