ALMOST BY definition, choosing to adopt an alternative lifestyle risks alienation and distrust.

Those who make a conscious decision to live outside the accepted norm do so in the certain knowledge they will be eyed with suspicion, envied, despised or even ostracised.

But what if that lifestyle is part of a culture that dates back centuries and, despite its age, has never been accepted by mainstream society? Nomads have been part of world history since the dawn of humanity and there are an estimated 40 million of them across the planet.

Nowadays some nomads – such as the Aboriginal tribes of Australia or the herders of Mongolia – are revered and others, including the Tuareg people roaming the Sahara with their trading caravans, are simply romanticised.

So why do the British find it so hard to accept the lifestyle of our indigenous nomads? The issue is periodically thrown into relief when yet another group of travellers sets up camp on unauthorised land and the local community reacts.

Just this week, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government revealed that last year travellers set up 31 caravans on land across the Bradford district they did not have permission to inhabit. In all, almost 4,000 caravans across the country were recorded as being on unauthorised sites.

There are only two official sites run by the Council in Bradford and the issue of travellers stopping without permission has been rumbling on for decades.

Shipley MP Phillip Davies says part of the issue is that vacant plots on authorised sites are not being taken up: “There can be no possible justification for encampments where they ride roughshod over legislation and the planning process. Even when they clear out the way they leave a massive mess behind them, so we need to be much tougher in enforcing the law and holding them to account for what they do.”

The Government is currently reviewing police and court powers amid calls for them to be toughened up.

Mr Davies said: “It needs to be a lot easier for councillors and land owners to get rid of these people from their land and hold them to account for the mess they leave behind.”

Charities, however, claim the situation has been made worse by a failure in government to address a “chronic shortage” of gipsy and travellers sites nationally.

Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) is a national charity, led by Baroness Janet Whitaker – co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma – which works to end racism and discrimination against those ethnic groups and to protect the right to a nomadic way of life.

In a report issued last December, it claimed the Government had reported an increase of 551 travellers’ pitches between 2012 and 2017 but the actual figure was only 339.

Co-director Sarah Mann said: “Parliamentarians must stop talking about gypsy and traveller families as if they are the problem and recognise that the government is failing to provide sites. This report shows the mechanisms which should create places for gypsy and traveller families to live are not working and must be fixed urgently.”

FFT – whose work is supported by the Department of Health, The Lottery, Lloyds Bank, and Children in Need among others – points out that gypsies and travellers have the “worst life outcomes of any ethnic group in the UK” with life expectancy 10-25 years lower than average, the poorest educational outcomes at GCSE, adult literacy below 40 per cent and the highest experience of prejudice.

It says: “Since Tudor times, gypsies and travellers followed seasonal farm work, stopping on commons and in green lanes but since WW2, the industrialisation of agriculture has drastically reduced the need for it. At the same time, traditional stopping places have gradually been closed off and new laws passed against stopping. This has resulted in the travelling communities having nowhere to stop or live.

“Racial abuse, discrimination in employment and being refused service are still common and many don’t get equal access to services.”

The findings are supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which says research shows 50 per cent of British people say they have an “unfavourable view” of travellers.

Michelle Gavin, FFT projects manager, said: “The vast majority of gypsies and travellers living on unauthorised land are not doing this because they want to. Would you want to live in a public space with next to no privacy? Would you want to get regularly evicted?

“The upcoming review chooses to focus on the anti-social behaviour of a small section of the gypsy and traveller communities and is part of a push for an increase in eviction powers. If families are evicted from an unauthorised site, they often have nowhere else to go.

“It will just create a new unauthorised site in a new area. The result will be an absolute waste of public money and the two main victims will be statutorily homeless traveller families and the British taxpayer.”

In a recent interview, Yvonne MacNamara, CEO of the Traveller Movement, summed up the problem: “They are the oldest ethnic minority in Britain and Ireland. They are not just going to suddenly disappear. So the Government needs to start addressing this issue of homelessness for these communities now.”