Campaigners Protest Bid To Ban Wild Camping on Dartmoor

Wealthy landowner challenges Dartmoor National Park authority over right to sleeping under the stars

Read time 6 mins

Published Dec 14, 2022

Base editorial team
BASE editorial team BASE writers and editors who live and breathe adventure every day. We love adventure storytelling as much as we love adventure itself.

Sleeping under the stars legally is a rarity across the British Isles. As things stand, the only place across the whole of England that you can legally wild camp is in Dartmoor National Park. But, with a bid from Dartmoor’s sixth largest landowner that law is currently shrouded in jeopardy.

Large parts of the moor are open to wild camping, which involves carrying your own equipment and staying just one or two nights maximum in a tent as part of a walk or expedition. You must be out of sight from roads or buildings, not have open fires, disturb wildlife or leave any trace (code of conduct here).

Alexander Darwall, a hedge fund manager who owns the 4,000 acre Blachford Estate on southern Dartmoor — which offers pheasant shooting, deerstalking and holiday rentals — is seeking to remove that right. Taking the matter to court, he is challenging whether the National Park has the authority to allow this on private land. The public’s right to wild camp on sections of the moor has been permitted since 1985.

Papers lodged by the Darwalls’ lawyers earlier this year claim the right of access granted by the Dartmoor Commons Act ‘does not include a right of wild camping’. He said he is not seeking to end wild camping but that the ‘need for landowner permission to wild camp is a vital safeguard’.

National Parks exist to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of their special qualities. Wild camping is a form of outdoor recreation which promotes that

Campaigners however are protesting the bid. At the weekend, rallies organised by the campaign group Right To Roam, saw between 300-400 people gathered in Princetown and outside the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday (December 12) ahead of the hearing.

‘It was a very emotional day, so many wonderful people came out to show their support of the right hike and Wildcamp,’ said Becca Trebilcock, one of the main organisers of the event.

 

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In a statement, the Dartmoor National Park said:

‘Stall Moor on Dartmoor is registered common land and one of the areas where you can wild camp. A right that has been enjoyed for many years. The owners of Stall Moor have issued a claim in the High Court for a “declaration” that section 10 of the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 Act does not authorise wild camping, but only recreation “on the move”.

‘The National Park Authority is defending this claim. Section 10 of the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 grants the public “a right of access” to the commons “on foot and on horseback for the purpose of open-air recreation”. The Act also gave the National Park Authority the right to make byelaws to control recreation on the commons.

‘National Parks exist to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of their special qualities. Wild camping is a form of outdoor recreation which promotes that, and section 10 should be interpreted as authorising that activity.’

If the claims made by the Darwall Estate are backed up by a Judge, it could throw into doubt popular overnight events such as Ten Tors and the Duke of Edinburgh’s award.

 

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