Wild camping was assumed to be permitted in the national park. Photo: Dartmoor NPA

Wild camping was assumed to be permitted in the national park. Photo: Dartmoor NPA

National park bosses in Dartmoor have agreed to seek permission to appeal against the recent judgement that removed a right to wild camp that was presumed to exist for decades.

Dartmoor National Park Authority members voted in favour of the move at a meeting on Friday.

On 13 January, Sir Julian Flaux, Chancellor of the High Court, ruled in favour of landowner Alexander Darwall and his wife Diana.

The hedge-fund manager, who has owned the Blachford Estate and Stall Moor, north of Ivybridge, since 2013, argued that the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 did not give the public the right to camp without the landowner’s permission.

The national park authority said the ruling fetters a people’s charter for the open air.

The matter was discussed by members in a closed session at the authority’s headquarters at Bovey Tracey in Devon.

Members also endorsed a permissive system to allow wild camping agreed with the Dartmoor Commons Owners’ Association which will continue ‘backpack camping’ in certain areas. The authority revealed landowners will be paid up to £300 a year to opt into the scheme.

Meanwhile the park authority will investigate areas of common land it owns that might be made available for wild camping. A review of bylaws will be suspended while the authority considers the High Court judgement.

Dartmoor National Park Authority chief executive Dr Kevin Bishop said: “We are grateful to the common landowners, including Mr and Mrs Darwall, who moved at speed to positively support the permissive system for backpack camping.

“The High Court judgment raises important issues of public interest that are central to the purpose of our national parks. For this reason, the authority has determined to seek permission to appeal the judgment.

“Our national parks are largely owned by private individuals, and we respect their rights. However, our national parks were designated by parliament for their national importance. They have twin purposes: to protect and conserve and to provide opportunities for all parts of society to responsibly enjoy them.

“When the legislation to establish national parks was introduced it was described as a people’s charter – a people’s charter for the open air, for the hikers and the ramblers, for everyone who lives to get out into the open air and enjoy the countryside. The High Court judgment potentially fetters that charter and seems contrary to the wishes of parliament.

“While we await determination of the application to appeal, and any subsequent appeal, we remain committed to working in partnership with landowners and other partners to ensure the new permissive system is successful.”

The authority said within days of the court judgment, a permissive approach to backpack or wild camping was agreed in principle with the Dartmoor Commons Owners’ Association.

The new system enables people to continue backpack camping on identified common land without needing to secure landowner permission first. It has also provided reassurance to the schools and young people preparing for Ten Tors challenge and Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, it added.

It said the fee acts as a ‘seal’ for the agreement. An authority spokesperson said: “Landowners are able to retain the fee but several have already indicated that they may donate it back to the national park via the Donate for Dartmoor fund.

“This is something the authority welcomes because Donate for Dartmoor supports the vital conservation work that keeps Dartmoor special for everyone.”

It said people intending to wild camp should consult the map on the authority website to see the areas where camping is allowed.

Kate Ashbrook: 'we salute the authority'. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Kate Ashbrook: 'we salute the authority'. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

The Open Spaces Society, Britain’s oldest national conservation body, said it was delighted with the decision to seek leave to appeal against the High Court judgement.

General secretary Kate Ashbrook said: “We have always understood that the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985, a pioneering piece of legislation, included a right to backpack on the Dartmoor commons.

“We believe the High Court judgment to be flawed, and we know that it has implications way beyond the Dartmoor commons. We therefore urged the park authority members to continue with the case, and are delighted that they have agreed to do so.

“The ruling has precipitated a vast public movement for greater access to our countryside, and it has highlighted not only the fragility of the access we have, but also the need for it to be secure in law.

“We salute the Dartmoor National Park Authority for its determination to establish the right to harmless backpacking on the Dartmoor commons.”

Some articles the site thinks might be related:

  1. Dartmoor rescue team issues urgent appeal for new control vehicle
  2. Paths ‘face extinction’ unless Government adopts plan
  3. Thousands of young challengers prepare for annual Dartmoor Ten Tors event
  4. Anglers back Ramblers’ campaign against Lomond camp ban
  5. Activities will celebrate young national park champions