Wild camping is tolerated in many upland areas. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Wild camping is tolerated in many upland areas. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

The British Mountaineering Council is calling for a 12-month trial where wild camping is permitted on certain areas of national parks south of the border.

The organisation set out its position following the appeal against a court ruling outlawing the practice on Dartmoor.

The BMC, which represents climbers, mountaineers and hillwalkers in England and Wales, said it wants to see wild camping allowed on open access land across several different national parks in England or Wales for a trial period of 12 months with a view to extending this to more areas.

In Scotland, responsible wild camping is already permitted under the nation’s access laws.

The BMC said: “A wild camp, miles from anywhere, is one of the greatest outdoor experiences. It’s a great way to explore new places, connect with nature, experience beautiful landscapes, help reduce stress and improve your mental health.

“The BMC’s vision of wild camping is that people should have the freedom to choose where to camp, in a self-sufficient, discreet and environmentally and socially responsible manner, in rural and remote places where visitors can move across the landscape as part of a journey or adventure, and know it’s acceptable to set up a temporary ‘wild’ camp.

“Currently it’s hard to find these places in England and Wales. In some parts of Dartmoor, wild camping is legal. In other upland and mountain areas, wild camping is illegal but generally tolerated by land managers and rangers. Many people already wild camp discreetly in our hills and mountains, following a strict ‘leave no trace’ ethic.”

It said it is already supporting the Outdoor Alliance Wales call for trials of expanding the right to wild camp on Welsh Government owned land as a basis for informing a future of [the Countryside and Rights of Way Act] and is continuing to encourage the Welsh Government to deliver on commitments to further access reform.

“However, the lack of legal clarity around wild camping remains and is a barrier for many.

“Visitors don’t feel confident to try it and fear that they are more likely to be targeted or dealt with harshly by authorities and land managers if challenged. The lack of legal clarity can also make land management decisions more difficult for farmers and rangers, and makes it difficult for managers, user groups and individuals to communicate good practice in order to influence behaviour.

“It is time to clarify the laws around wild camping

“The BMC want to see more land open to respectful, responsible, legal wild camping. This means visitors will feel secure in their rights and will understand how important it is to behave responsibly and care for our natural environment. Landowners and managers will be assured that visitors are acting under clear best practice guidelines, as custodians of our remote and wild places.”

In addition to the 12-month trial, the council called for essential funding and resources to be made available for national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and land managers to support responsible wild camping rights during this trial period by, for instance, expanding the ranger service and for necessary infrastructure such as signs informing of rights and responsibilities.

It said there should be a responsible wild camping code. “This would be a code of conduct with clearly defined wild camping principles, examples of what these principles look like in practice, and a clear explanation of the need for certain exclusions with a focus on promoting stewardship and having a positive impact,” it said.

There should be additional control measures or local restrictions, and ways to communicate these effectively, where these are required to protect sensitive areas or limit camping numbers in very popular areas.

Educational campaigns and practical training to improve the public’s understanding and skills to be able to wild camp responsibly should be developed. This would include the BMC and its partner organisations, such as Mountain Training, increasing their provision of resources to equip people with the skills they need.

Following a successful trial period, lessons learnt could be applied, to amend the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 or introduce new access legislation, to include wild camping as a permissible outdoor recreation activity on open access land in England and Wales.

In April 2023, Dartmoor National Park Authority was granted leave to appeal against the controversial High Court ruling that found that visitors to Dartmoor do not have the right to wild or ‘backpack’ camp overnight in the national park without landowner consent.

The BMC said, despite the national park defending the public’s right to access the area for the purposes of ‘outdoor recreation’, which includes responsible wild camping, the judge ruled in favour of the landowner believing that Section 10 of the Dartmoor Commons Act did not give the public this right.

The case returned to the Court of Appeal on Tuesday and new evidence was presented that supports the tradition of the laws relating to common land and rights of public access. The Court of Appeal has granted leave to the Open Spaces Society to intervene in the case, in support of the Dartmoor National Park Authority.

The outcome of this case is significant because it could affect camping rights beyond the Dartmoor commons.

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