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

Britain’s oldest national conservation body has joined the battle to restore camping rights on Dartmoor.

The Open Spaces Society will help Dartmoor National Park Authority in its appeal against a decision that effectively halted backpack camping in areas previously held to permit the practice.

Alexander and Diana Darwall, owners of Stall Moor common, were successful in a High Court case in January. The judge, Sir Julian Flaux, ruled that there is no right to camp under the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985, but the authority, defending the case for backpack camping, won leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal. Now the Open Spaces Society will join it in fighting the case.

The national park authority negotiated limited camping rights with landowners after agreeing to pay for access to certain areas.

The society said it has, for the past 158 years, been defending the common land of England and Wales, and people’s rights of access there. It will bring additional information and expertise to the debate based on its long experience of the laws relating to common land and rights of public access, it added.

Kate Ashbrook, the society’s general secretary, said: “We are pleased to assist the Dartmoor National Park Authority in this important case.

“We firmly believe, based on legal precedent, that there is a right to backpack camping on Dartmoor, which is all part of the right to walk and ride conferred by the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985.

“This case is of immense significance because it could affect camping rights beyond the Dartmoor commons. It has struck a chord in the public’s collective heart. In January it provoked a peaceful protest of more than 3,000 people on Stall Moor, and has led to calls for greater freedom to roam in law.

“With our long history and knowledge of commons law, we are well placed to assist in this case.

“We are immensely grateful to the trio of barristers, Richard Honey KC, Ned Westaway and Esther Drabkin-Reiter, of Francis Taylor Building, who have offered to act pro bono, and the team from Richard Buxton Solicitors.”

The appeal will be heard by a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal on 18 July.

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