Large numbers have set up camp at Bellever in Dartmoor national park. Photo: Maigheach-gheal CC-BY-SA-2.0

Large numbers have set up camp at Bellever in Dartmoor national park. Photo: Maigheach-gheal CC-BY-SA-2.0

National park bosses in Dartmoor are using emergency powers to ban camping at a beauty spot close to internationally important prehistoric sites.

Dartmoor National Park Authority said it was reacting to a dramatic increase in fly-camping at Bellever in Devon.

The authority is using powers under the Dartmoor Commons Act (1985) to stop large numbers of people treating Riddon Ridge at Bellever as an informal campsite and to give the site time to recover.

Since the easing of pandemic restrictions in England, Dartmoor has experienced significant increases in the numbers of people camping overnight in tents, motorhomes and campervans, many in breach of national park bylaws.

It said there have been unsustainable levels of anti-social behaviour with littering, human waste and fires causing damage to habitats and animals.

On one night in July, 70 tents were recorded at Bellever. Fifty fire pits were counted along a 500m length of riverbank. Large amounts of debris including broken bottles, plastic bottles and bags, disposable barbecues, wet wipes and used toilet paper had been abandoned there when people left.

An authority spokesperson said: “Bellever has ancient monuments and field systems which are internationally important. Bronze Age hut circles there are 3,000 years old but the lighting of campfires and moving of stones poses a real threat to them.

“Discarded rubbish is harmful to wildlife and other animals living on the moor. Plastic bags and wet wipes are not good food for ponies.”

The camping ban comes into force from Friday 7 August for 27 days. To help rangers with enforcement of the action, national park marshals will be employed, supported by funding from the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner.

The spokesperson said: “The levels of human waste is such that the authority is concerned it’s creating another, wholly avoidable, health hazard at a time when public services are still battling the global Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is making it almost impossible for other people and locals, who are respectful of the countryside, to enjoy the area.”

Kevin Bishop, chief executive of Dartmoor National Park Authority said, “There is absolutely no excuse for this type of behaviour. We recognise the coronavirus pandemic has been a difficult time for us all and that people want to come to Dartmoor to enjoy the fresh air, get some exercise and connect with nature.

“We enjoy seeing people benefit from this, it’s great for their physical and mental health and wellbeing.”

The national park said the only type of camping allowed on specific parts of Dartmoor is backpack camping: a back-to-basics overnight stay of one or two nights, carrying your tent and equipment in a rucksack, with zero impact on the environment.

Mr Bishop said: “We, alongside other national parks and countryside organisations, are appalled and concerned at the actions of the disrespectful few; those who are treating the countryside like a toilet or a rubbish dump. There is simply no excuse for it.”

Simon Lee, ranger team manager, said: “We’ve not experienced anything like this before across the national park. Most of our work is clearing debris people have abandoned, rather than doing vital access work and helping people get the most from their visit.

“This unsociable behaviour is taking up lots of our time and poses a big risk to other people, wildlife and habitats. The situation is becoming intolerable; no one should need to see or deal with this type of mess and that’s why we’re taking this action.

“We are absolutely committed to looking after the special qualities of Dartmoor and helping the vast majority of people to continue enjoying the area sustainably and safely.

“We are sorry to those people who visit Dartmoor responsibly and we hope they can find a new places to find peace and quiet, reconnect with nature and leave no trace.”

The authority is reminding people to follow the Countryside Code.

The action is supported by Devon and Cornwall Police, Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez, the landowner and Forestry England which manages neighbouring Bellever Forest.

Teignbridge neighbourhood sergeant, Seth Saunders, said: “Officers will be in the area in coming days supporting Dartmoor rangers to engage with members of the public in efforts to prevent disorder and anti-social behaviour.

“We are incredibly lucky to be surrounded by many beauty spots in Devon and but it is crucial that we are all respectful of the local communities, habitats and wildlife to ensure these places can be enjoyed by everyone who visits.”

Ben Robinson, Forester for Forestry England said: “In the last five years, Forestry England has invested heavily in tackling the issues caused by an inconsiderate minority of wild campers at Bellever. Since lockdown eased just a few weeks ago, we have already collected and removed more dumped waste than we usually see in a whole year.

“This situation is simply unsustainable, and is diverting time and money that could be better spent maintaining this beautiful landscape and improving access for all. It is sad that it has come to this, but we fully support Dartmoor National Park’s necessary action.

“We have worked collaboratively with the national park rangers for many years to protect this special place and its irreplaceable habitats and we will continue to do so.”

The national park authority said those camping with large tents or in large groups and with lots of equipment must go to a designated campsite with proper facilities.

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