Dartmoor wild camping ruling ‘huge step backward’

A High Court ruling that people do not have a right to wild camp in Dartmoor National Park without landowners’ permission has been called a “huge step backward”, as disappointed campaigners vowed to “go to war” and challenge the decision.

Farmers Alexander and Diana Darwall brought a successful legal challenge over wild camping, claiming some campers cause problems to livestock and the environment.

Mr and Mrs Darwall, who keep cattle on Stall Moor, which forms part of their more-than 3,450-acre estate in the southern part of Dartmoor, secured a finding from a judge that a 1985 law that regulates access to moorland does not provide a right to wild camp.

The Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA), which defended the High Court claim, said it was “really disappointed” by Sir Julian Flaux’s ruling and would be considering whether to appeal.

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The Ramblers Association, a walking charity now known as the Ramblers, tweeted: “This decision is a huge step backward for the right of everyone to access nature.

It said it supported the “long-established precedent” of wild camping on Dartmoor and said it would fight to “defend our rights of access & overturn this result”.

The charity later said it was concerned the legal case “could be the thin end of the wedge for people’s rights to explore nature”.

“Access to nature helps everyone stay connected to the environment and passionate about protecting it for future generations,” it added.

The Right to Roam campaign tweeted that the judge’s ruling was “an absolute outrage” and that it now “goes to war”.

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It said it was launching “a ferocious campaign to fight for our right to sleep under the stars” and called for people to join a march on Mr Darwall’s land later this month.

Emma Linford, an outdoor education professional with 20 years experience, and part of The Stars are for Everyone campaign, told the PA news agency that she felt “rage about the rights of privilege and entitlement of how one person can remove such an important right for so many”.

Ms Linford, who has led skills training on Dartmoor, added that “Wild camping is not an occupation, it is transitory, it is recreation. Recreation that connects, inspires, develops rounded human beings.”

The Dartmoor Preservation Association, an independent organisation interested in the moor’s ecology, said on Twitter that the judgment was “a great let-down for all who love Dartmoor”.

It added: “This is just the latest in a historical assault on public rights of access to the countryside – at a time when we desperately need more, not less time in nature.”

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Also on Twitter, MP Alex Sobel, Labour’s shadow minister for environment, said: “Our National Parks should be open to all and access to Dartmoor is integral to that.

“Labour will expand the right to roam as part of our programme for Government.

“Our natural spaces are here for us all to share for biodiversity, wellbeing and equity.”

Ruth Marvel, chief executive of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, said: “We are extremely disappointed by today’s decision.

“This generation of young people are grappling with the aftershocks of a devastating pandemic and a once-in-a-lifetime cost-of-living crisis, which are taking a harmful toll on their mental health.

“Now is the time to protect and extend their right to explore the great outdoors and get off the beaten track, with all the vital mental and physical benefits that brings, not limit it further.

She said the scheme was liaising with the DNPA and hoped to “ensure that young people who explore our countryside for their DofE won’t lose out on the unique thrill of solitude, independence and adventure that wild camping brings”.