Anti-social visitors to Dartmoor take ‘wild’ camping too far

·3-min read
People camping at Dartmoor - APEX
People camping at Dartmoor - APEX

Sherlock Holmes spent days camping on Dartmoor searching for the Hound of the Baskervilles – but his real-life modern counterpart might have fallen foul of the authorities before the mystery was solved.

New rules propose to limit camps to small groups and to specific areas set out in published maps, as well as restricting the use of barbecues and reminding visitors not to spend more than two nights in one place.

The Devon moorland is one of the few places in England, Wales and Northern Ireland where you can wild camp without a landowner’s permission, but it is set to change its bylaws after being inundated with antisocial visitors during the pandemic.

Rangers said large groups of holidaymakers had descended upon the moor, bringing cars and large amounts of equipment and disrupting the unspoilt environment.

Visitors have had the right to access the moor to walk and camp since a 1985 law which enshrined their right of access.

But the “ethos” of this legislation, designed to offer access to backpackers with small tents on multi-day hikes, has been lost amid a rising number of people arriving with lights, loud music and garden furniture to “party” for days on end, the National Park said.

Last summer groups arrived to camp in the picturesque Bellever area, close to the River Dart, leaving behind litter, makeshift toilets and fire pits, prompting the authority to introduce emergency measures to ban camping in the area for several weeks in August.

A report published earlier this month said: “Members are aware of the damage to the fabric of the moor, to wildlife and to archaeology following large groups of people camping near Bellever last summer.

“Large frame tents, table and chairs, lights, loud music contributed to a party atmosphere; we are seeing this at a smaller scale at a number of sites across Dartmoor.

“We need clarity in the wording of the byelaw to ensure that future wild camping on Dartmoor is within the original ethos of the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 which was to allow people to put on their backpacks and camp away from roads, buildings and other people in a remote location as part of a walking trip or expedition.”


Other national parks in England and Wales, such as the Lake District, Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia, only allow wild camping with a landowner’s permission, and Northern Ireland has similar rules. Wild camping is allowed in Scotland, except for in some restricted areas.

Alison Kohler, the director of conservation and communities for the National Park authority, said: “We are doing this to ensure the byelaws are fit for purpose and help protect the National Park for all to enjoy today and tomorrow.

“Updating the byelaws is an important topic for everyone who cares about Dartmoor whether it’s landowners, commoners, residents, businesses or visitors, and we recognise people will want to have a say.

“Following Authority agreement, a draft set of byelaws will go out to public consultation from week beginning Sept 20.

“We’re keen to hear a diverse range of views so we can develop byelaws that are relevant, clear, enforceable and enable people to enjoy Dartmoor, help look after it and ‘leave no trace’.”

If approved after the public consultation the proposals will be sent to the central Government for confirmation.

Other proposed rules regulate dogs after a rise in professional dog-walkers and attacks on livestock.

Many of Britain’s most popular beauty spots have struggled to cope with a mass influx of visitors as tourists are forced to holiday in the UK due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a pattern which began last year but has continued this summer.

Last month Cornish officials asked tourists to stay away unless they had a pre-booked trip, amid a rise in Covid-19 cases.

In the Lake District an increase in footfall has led to a rise in erosion on and around footpaths, and on Mount Snowdon in Wales there were queues for the summit last month due to a huge rise in visiting hikers.

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