Dartmoor Latest: National Park to Appeal Court Ruling

© Dan Bailey

The Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) has announced that it intends to appeal a recent highly controversial High Court judgement that there is no legal right to camp on the moor. This follows the launch last week of an agreement between the Park and landowners to continue to allow camping on a permissive basis.

News of the appeal has delighted access campaigners, who have been increasingly mobilised since the anti-camping judgement earlier this month.

Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society said:

"We have always understood that the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985, a pioneering piece of legislation, included a right to backpack on the Dartmoor commons. We believe the High Court judgment to be flawed, and we know that it has implications way beyond the Dartmoor commons. We therefore urged the park authority members to continue with the case, and are delighted that they have agreed to do so.

"The ruling has precipitated a vast public movement for greater access to our countryside, and it has highlighted not only the fragility of the access we have, but also the need for it to be secure in law. We salute the Dartmoor National Park Authority for its determination to establish the right to harmless backpacking on the Dartmoor commons."

The freedom of Dartmoor - a right that's going to have to be fought for  © Dan Bailey
The freedom of Dartmoor - a right that's going to have to be fought for
© Dan Bailey

With limited time to respond to the initial judgement, the Authority had to act fast. An early request for permission to appeal was declined on 13 January. The next step involves filing a notice to the Court of Appeal, which will then decide to grant or refuse permission to appeal.

While the legal work goes on, the hastily-assembled permissive agreement will continue.

Commenting after a meeting today of the DNPA, Chief Executive Dr Kevin Bishop said: "We are grateful to the common landowners, including Mr and Mrs Darwall [victors in the court case] who moved at speed to positively support the permissive system for backpack camping.

"The High Court judgment raises important issues of public interest that are central to the purpose of our National Parks. For this reason, the Authority has determined to seek permission to appeal the judgment.

"Our National Parks are largely owned by private individuals, and we respect their rights. However, our National Parks were designated by Parliament for their national importance. They have twin purposes: to protect and conserve and to provide opportunities for all parts of society to responsibly enjoy them.

"When the legislation to establish National Parks was introduced it was described as a people's charter - a people's charter for the open air, for the hikers and the ramblers, for everyone who lives to get out into the open air and enjoy the countryside. The High Court judgment potentially fetters that charter and seems contrary to the wishes of Parliament.

"Whilst we await determination of the application to appeal, and any subsequent appeal, we remain committed to working in partnership with landowners and other partners to ensure the new permissive system is successful."

Dartmoor's existing byelaws have been under review for some time, and while the Authority had been due to publish a revised set for public consultation its members have now agreed that this work should be paused for the time being. 

In the meantime the permissive arrangement will enable people to continue so-called backpack- or wild-camping on identified common land without needing to secure landowner permission first. As well as safeguarding a popular pastime in the short term, this has helped provide reassurance to schools and young people preparing for Ten Tors/Duke of Edinburgh.

Landowners involved in the scheme will enter into a legal agreement with DNPA, with up to £300 paid annually to those who opt-in (several have apparently indicated that they'll donate the sum to the National Park).

Areas where people can backpack/wild camp are outlined on the National Park Authority's website.

Local Labour MP Luke Pollard has tweeted in support of the right to camp, and there are signs the party will extend the Right to Roam in England should it form the next Government.

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27 Jan

It is good news. Shame the Darwalls get a positive mention. Maybe they will donate their £300 to the cost of the Appeal?

Hopefully the basis of the Appeal will become clearer and if any support on the position at, or before the 1985 Act is helpful, then DNPA can ask us all for that?

We will all be told that the Court will only consider the legal aspect of this, but we must keep the momentum of general disagreement and dismay at the original decision going as loudly as possible?

Dartmoor National Park Authority met today (27 January) to agreed key decisions on backpack camping. Following the High Court judgment in the case of Darwall vs Dartmoor National Park Authority*, Members have agreed to: • Seek permission to appeal the High Court judgment • Endorse the new permissive system, agreed in principle with the Dartmoor Commons’ Owners Association • Investigate which areas of common land owned by the Authority could be opened up to backpack camping • Pause work on the byelaw review so the implications of High Court judgment can be fully considered.


28 Jan

I wonder what they can offer as the basis of their appeal, there must be loads of scope

The Darwells appear to have mounted their case on the pretence of ignorance as to the implications of owning land within a national park. Imagine that someone who is so sensitive to value might be unaware of the protected value of land within a public, national asset. It’s amazing how they try to offload any additional duties to the nation that might come along with this privileged protection! Hopefully this disingenuousness can be challenged (and dismantled!)

I haven’t read the judgment, the statute or any relevant precedent, and I know nothing of this judge (not a great sign in itself). Still, you’d feel more confident of a fair outcome in a case involving public rights against landowners if the judge weren’t called Sir Jocelyn Flaux, wouldn’t you? Now if it had been a case turning on whether or not fox hunting was public recreation, maybe the learned judge might have felt differently; who can say?


29 Jan

Definitely. Sir Julian Flaux would be a much more confidence inspiring name.

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