Don’t stand so close to me! Why do flocking grey nomads park so near?

One of the things most likely to annoy grey nomads enjoying the solitude of camping in the bush is when other travellers arrive and – seemingly inexplicably – park almost on top of them.

On many occasions, this occurs in places where there is plenty of space for all.

“I have got absolutely no idea what the thought process is,” says long-term traveller, Alex Brown. “If you’re out in the bush on your own you’re obviously not looking for a close neighbour … it really annoys me when people just appear and destroy your whole experience.”

Most speculate that the behaviour is rooted in a traveller’s over-inflated sense of their own ‘interestingness’, or a fear of being too isolated and presumably vulnerable to attack by crazed camp invaders.

Academics say this ‘flocking behaviour’ can definitely be seen in the way travellers move together in approximately the same direction, much the same as many bird species. Flocks are an example of self-organised behaviour in a group and properties similar to those observed in flocks might also explain some of the dynamics and organisation of human groups.

“The essential idea here is that, in order to reduce one’s risk of being caught, it is better to be in a group than alone, so that, if a predator like a killer, or a robber is around, it is more likely that its victim be anyone else,” said Vicenç Quera, a Professor at the University of Barcelona who is a leading expert on adaptive behaviour.

He told the Grey Nomads that, in these circumstances, the apparent gregariousness of close-parking newcomers was not motivated by something that brought benefits to the group as a whole.

“Instead, it increases the probability of every individual to be safe at the expense of some other individual being a victim,” he said. “As for the campers that prefer to camp alone, maybe it’s because they don’t perceive danger; or maybe because they are not selfish!”

It was actually back in 1971, that evolutionary biologist William ‘Bill’ Hamilton first came up with the ‘selfish herd theory’ which said friendly-seeming groupings were actually more to do with self preservation and minimising the risk of predation.

And, for grey nomads who want to apply Mr Hamilton’s principles to their travelling behaviour, they may want to look at parking even more centrally in future. He says that. in any grouping, the predation risk is greatest on the periphery and decreases toward the centre. He argues that the more dominant animals obtain low-risk central positions, whereas subordinate animals will be forced into higher risk positions on the outer.

“I’m happy to be subordinate if that’s what gets me away from the annoying flockers,” said grey nomad, Alex Brown. “Being on the periphery of the camping hordes suits me just fine … and the more peripheral the better.”

  • Do you get annoyed by campsite ‘flockers’? Email us here to share your thoughts.

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