Dartmoor wild camping legal challenge fund raises over £50,000

‘The loss of the right to backpack camp on Dartmoor was a hammer blow to public access to the countryside’

The online campaign fighting for the rights of hikers to camp on Dartmoor has raised over £50,000. The “Save Dartmoor Backpack Camping” page on the Just Giving website has attracted more than 1,800 individual donations towards its target of £100,000 for the legal battle over the right to wild camp on the moor.

With Wild Camping growing as a popular type of camping it’s no surprise the loss of this great area is causing such an uproar among the outdoor enthusiasts which has led to the fight against the ban.

The appeal has been launched by the Dartmoor Preservation Association, a charity established more than 140 years ago which says it has “kept the moor wild and free for generations”. The Dartmoor National Park Authority, which governs the use of the moor’s public spaces, has been given leave to challenge a controversial court ruling made last year which threatened the long-held rights of hikers to camp out overnight on the moor.

The High Court ruled earlier this year in favour of Alexander Darwall – a hedge fund manager and Dartmoor landowner who challenged the 1985 byelaws which gave rights to wild camp on parts of the moors.

In its place, the National Park struck a deal with landowners which gave a permissive arrangement, renewed on an annual basis, in exchange for a sum of public money.

Image Source: ellis-brigham.com

Mr Darwall and his wife Diana questioned the legal foundation of the authority’s bylaws which permit responsible backpack camping – allowing, for example, hikers to pitch a tent, which they must transport on foot, for up to two nights. They argued that some wild campers on their land caused problems to livestock and the environment.

Sir Julian Flaux, the Chancellor of the High Court, agreed and found the act did not give the public any right to make camp overnight on Dartmoor common land, and that this required the consent of the land owner.

The Darwalls said: “It is perfectly understandable that people have been upset about the perceived threat to wild camping on Dartmoor. It is very regrettable that this has caused unnecessary worry, but the truth is that there is no threat to access or true wild camping.

“Dartmoor is increasingly under pressure from fly campers, litter, raves and so on – a small number of people who spoil it for everyone. We want to keep Dartmoor unspoilt with the principle of ‘leave no trace’. We also have legal and environmental responsibilities which we take seriously.”

Campaigners have been putting pressure on the authority to appeal the ruling. There have been protests, including one involving 3,500 people on Stall Moor in January.

Emma Linford, a campaigner with the pressure group The Stars Are For Everyone, said: “A permission is not the same as a right – we’ve been sold a deal which is the poor cousin of the rights we once held.

“Nature-connectedness in the UK is the lowest across the whole of Europe. We need to be safeguarding and extending rights of access – challenging this decision in court demonstrates that the national park is true to its root purpose – a place for people and for nature.

“We stand in steadfast solidarity with them as they take this fight back to the Darwalls – we invite anyone who is able to donate to the legal fund which is needed to help restore our right to wild camp.”

And Tom Usher, CEO of the DPA, added: “It’s a travesty that, at a time when the National Park is operating under a 48% real-term budget cut over the last 12 years, that we should also be facing the loss of access rights at a time when the benefits of nature-connectedness have never been more vital. We’re supporting Dartmoor National Park to appeal this decision and we ask the public to donate what they can to the fund.” 

The authority will decide this week whether to appeal.

“The loss of the right to backpack camp on Dartmoor was a hammer blow to public access to the countryside”, said Lewis Winks from the group Right to Roam. 

“We lost the right to sleep under the night sky on Dartmoor – yet this follows a long history of clearances and restrictions placed on people through the ages. It’s simply the most recent chapter of enclosure which has blighted England. We’re pleased to see the National Park Authority has been given permission to appeal this ruling, not only for Dartmoor and its rights, but also for all those who have lost, and who stand to lose, their rights to the countryside.”

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