Dismay as Dartmoor Camping Case is Re-Opened

© Wulfrunian

News that the Dartmoor camping saga has once again reared its head has been met with consternation by access campaigners and groups representing walkers. The Supreme Court has granted landowners the Darwalls leave to appeal in the wild camping case, which most commentators thought had been settled in a judgement in July 2023.

Dartmoor sunrise  © Wulfrunian
Dartmoor sunrise
© Wulfrunian, Jun 2017

Dispute to date has hinged on the interpretation of the Dartmoor Commons Act, and the key question of whether camping counts as open-air recreation under the Act, for which public access is permitted on large parts of the Moor. 

Wild ('backpack') camping on the Moor was assumed for many decades to be allowed, but in recent court wrangles, lawyers representing Alexander Darwall argued that the activity was not explicitly permitted by law since it did not count as recreation, and that he couldn't move campers off his land even if they were causing a nuisance, since landowners' hands were tied by the longstanding tradition of unregulated camping.

A court decision to remove people's right to camp on the Blachford Estate, and thus effectively all of Dartmoor, was considered "a significant retrograde step" by walking charity The Ramblers, who among others - including the National Park Authority - had argued that wild camping (and leaving no trace) was a longstanding right. The overturning of this judgement represented a victory for access campaigners who had sought to defend the wild camping tradition.

Now it seems camping on Dartmoor, the only place in England where it has historically been allowed, may be under threat once more, as the matter will return to the courts for a further round of debate and a final judgment.

Conservation body the Open Spaces Society will again apply to intervene in support of the Dartmoor National Park Authority.

"We are deeply disappointed that the Supreme Court has granted the Darwalls leave to appeal" said Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society. 

"We firmly believe that the legal arguments are clear, that there is a right to backpack camping on the Dartmoor commons. However, we shall fight on, and shall give our support to the Dartmoor National Park Authority in this important case, to prove again, beyond all doubt, that there is such a right."

The BMC have weighed in too:

"Despite 2024 marking the 75th anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949, an act which secured access for everyone to open countryside whilst preserving and enhancing natural beauty, public access rights continue to remain under threat" they said in a statement today.⁠

The Dartmoor Preservation Association is another organisation backing Dartmoor National Park Authority as the official focus for donations in its appeal against the ban on backpack camping. A fundraising appeal has so far raised over £60,000 out of its target of £100,000.

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11 Jan

Hopefully the supreme court agree with the court of appeal.

11 Jan

Well after the biggest miscarriage of justice in legal history on something else recently, let's see how "justice" is served in this. The outcome should tell us how the law really works in this lovely land of ours, one way or another. Why don't I feel positive?

Well, since they can't remove me from their land themselves, they can send the police to remove me. It'll only be a 5-mile walk, I'm sure most bobbies are equipped and ready to prioritise that for the evening.

12 Jan

They really want to keep the land clear for their shooting and luxury camping I guess.

Lets see how it progresses and think I might lob a few quid in the pot for campaign.

13 Jan

More likely their hired man (Tory MP Anthony Mangnall) ensuring that they get their money's worth. Expect an entitled 'knock' on your tent door ...

I suspect you'll escape the long arm of the law since they appear to have problems attending a lot of actual crimes. If Dartmoor was closer I'd be poring over the map for a nice little backpacking trip.

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