Dartmoor is one of the few areas in England where wild camping is legally permitted. Photo: Dartmoor NPA

Dartmoor is one of the few areas in England where wild camping is legally permitted. Photo: Dartmoor NPA

A veteran campaigner is urging people to join him in resisting proposals to restrict wild camping on Dartmoor.

John Bainbridge said Dartmoor National Park Authority is trying to reduce areas where camping is allowed under current bylaws.

The authority wants to revoke a set of rules on access land that the government approved in April 1989 and is currently running a consultation on its plans.

Mr Bainbridge said: “I’m a great supporter of the Dartmoor National Park Authority. But sometimes they get things plain wrong, as they seem to be doing with their proposed plans to restrict the allowed wild camping areas on Dartmoor.

“Unlike in Scotland, there is no legal right to camp in most of England and Wales. The only real exception to that is in the Dartmoor national park where wild camping, with certain minor restrictions, is allowed by law under the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985. The commons act also granted Dartmoor a legal right to roam, long before the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in 2001.

“But now the authority is trying to roll back the areas of Dartmoor where wild camping is allowed. At its last meeting the DNPA published a map showing areas where they wish to change the bylaws prohibiting any form of camping.

“The excuse they are using is that a minority of people, during the pandemic, came to Dartmoor and made a mess, dropped litter, started fires and cut down trees. Actions which, I’m sure, we would all heartily condemn.

“So it would seem to be the case that, because a small minority misbehaved, the majority of responsible wild campers are to be punished. Rather like banning everyone from driving cars because a small minority drink and drive.

“There are of course other forms of legislation that the DNPA could use to deal with troublemakers who are caught making a mess. They might be charged under the existing bylaws or even wider national legislation. After all, are they going to restrict ramblers using the right to roam provisions of the Act because a small minority of Dartmoor visitors drop litter? Well, the jury is still out on that one.

“I believe the DNPA is using the misbehaviour of a minority to attack the provisions of the Dartmoor Commons Act because, in their hearts, they loathe the thought that such provisions exist at all.”

Mr Bainbridge said he has spent 50 years campaigning for Dartmoor, including nine years as chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, and many years as a Dartmoor representative of the Ramblers Association. He been a council member of the Council, now Campaign, for National Parks, a committee member of The Two Moors Way Association and worked with the DNPA on the Dartmoor Action Group Committee.

“I spent many years as a Dartmoor guide and have written books and articles about the Moor,” he said. “I have been involved in some of the great battles involving threats to Dartmoor.

“The DNPA’s attack on wild campers comes at a worrying time – the British government is pushing through its policing bill, which could make criminals of anyone in other parts of the country who free-roams or tries to put up a tent as they have done by tradition for generations.

“I suspect the DNPA know they are on dodgy ground. A few months ago, they were all for making wild camping illegal at a greater distance from roads than the present law allows. When it was pointed out that this would ban camping from some of the most popular spots on the Moor, they retreated.

“Their new idea is to list areas which will be excluded under new bylaws. Many of these are equally popular wild camping spots.

“In their recently published document, the DNPA claims to have consulted. Well, they’ve certainly consulted with the landowning lobby and other elements of the Dartmoor establishment.”

He urged outdoor enthusiasts to object to the plans by emailing the authority. Dartmoor National Park Authority has also set up an online survey page.

Mr Bainbridge said: “It’s worth remembering that most of wild Dartmoor is owned by just 15 landowners – individuals, companies and organisations. The national park authority is listening far more to those 15 rather than the hundreds of responsible wild campers, thousands of regular ramblers and other users of the Moor.

“And what they have not done is consulted with wild campers themselves to much of a degree.

“As I’ve said, I appreciate the difficulties the DNPA and its rangers had during the pandemic. I share their horror at the bad behaviour of the few. But to make life more difficult for the vast and well-behaved majority is not the answer.

“Use existing legislation to deal with troublemakers and don’t pick on the law-abiding. Encourage responsible wild camping and engage more with experienced wild campers in spreading and teaching newcomers to camping how to do it properly.

“Bad campers of the sort we saw out during the pandemic will ignore the bylaws anyway. Only the well-behaved will suffer.”

Alison Kohler, Dartmoor National Park Authority’s director for conservation and communities, said: “We’re seeking wide-ranging views on revisions to the bylaws to ensure they are fit for purpose and can help protect the national park for all to enjoy today and into the future.

“We’d encourage people to consider the amended bylaws and provide feedback to help us understand why you might support or object to the proposals.

“This will help us with the decision-making process. The consultation runs for six weeks, closing on 1 November and we and welcome responses from individuals and organisations locally and nationally.”

More details of the plans are on the Dartmoor National Park Authority website.

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