Growing numbers of people getting the urge to strip naked and walk around in only their birthday suit should follow one piece of advice: be ready to take something to cover up - a naturism expert has cautioned.

Throwing off the shackles of society by striding around with the sun on your bare skin is a primeval sensation which up to four million people enjoy - or wish they could, claims the group British Naturism.

But it most definitely is not a passion shared by all, meaning there is plenty of room for serious misunderstandings between nudists and non-nudists.

When serious confusion does occur then the consequences can be serious, with police or even the courts involved.

So a legitimate nudist runs the risk of being caught with their pants down and facing the prospect of explaining their hobby to a judge.

This pitfalls of nudism have been illustrated starkly in France recently - a country very comfortable with citizens de-robing and walking about in the nip.

A nudist out on a naked stroll spotted a mother and child walking towards him on the same path.To avoid embarrassment, he leapt behind some bushes to stay out of sight while they passed.

This noble act had the opposite effect, unfortunately. The woman spotted a fully naked male trying to conceal himself behind a bush and raised the alarm: he now faces a charge of indecent exposure.

Of course, Britain and France have different laws governing nudity, but the incident does illustrate how very badly wrong unexpected meetings between nudists and non-nudists can go.

In the UK, there is no law against being naked in public, but courts have public order and sexual offences laws available to them.

So how can naturists in Britain avoid a potential dressing down from a judge should they encounter a fully clothed young family in a beauty spot?

And why do it at all?

Born naked, then clothed
Born naked, then clothed

IBTimes UK spoke to British Naturism to find out. Aptly enough, spokesman Andrew Welch answered questions fully naked.

When out walking naked, go prepared, he advised.

"The problem is not the nudity, but the unexpected nature of it," he said. "Naturists are sensitive to the feelings of other people, so they should be ready to cover themselves up by carrying a towel.

"Most naturists will have something to cover themselves with - that's how we are as people. But it's wrong to make the assumption that everyone should be shocked by naturism."

There are also other practical reasons for carrying a towel while rambling. "You should have a towel for sitting down outdoors, anyway," he said.

Welch said the number of nudists and would-be natutrists in Britain was in the millions. That would suggests it has the potential to take up an awful lot of court time.

But this should not be the case, he insisted. British Naturism gets involved in up to two cases a year where a naturist's hobby has got them in trouble with the law.

"The main thing to say is that being naked in public is not illegal," he said.

"There have been cases where naturists have been sent to court but these cases are thrown out because there is nothing wrong about it.

"Our challenge is the culture and not the law. Sometimes it's applied well and sometimes badly - like when a naturist is doing something legal, but they get taken in to custody. That is an issue. We have dialogue with police forces who sometimes apply the law wrongly.

"People are surprised by naturism and their minds turn to 'what are they doing?' But naturists enjoying the sunshine on their skin."

For evidence that nudism is alive and well in Britain, then Cornwall recently would have been a good place to find out.

Around 500 people enjoyed the festival experience of entertainment, food and drink - all completely naked. However, only one of the live acts got in to the spirit by stripping off.

Meanwhile conservative Buckinghamshire was home to an event hosted by British Naturism, which drew 30 people.

Being naked can help people shed other inhibitions about their body image, according to Welch.

Sunshine on skin is why nudism appeals to some
Sunshine on skin is why nudism appeals to some

"One woman in Buckinghamshire who had never come before said 'I can't believe how normal I am'," he said.

Appreciating naturism and not being scared by it requires a mental leap which is easy to make, he added.

He said: "People need to define what is normal because less than half the population doing something makes it abnormal. So does that make going to football matches or to church abnormal?

"We all come in to the world without clothes on and we did not get a rule saying 'get dressed.' Anyway, who would want to be all dressed up in the great weather we're having?"

Welch's final point is a strong one. But do take a towel, or risk explaining your state to a police officer.