Dartmoor backpack camping: we join case in court of appeal

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Update July 2023: the appeal was heard on July 18 2023. A summary and link to watch can be found here.

Update June 2023: the society has submitted to the court a witness statement, made by case officer Hugh Craddock, and the society’s skeleton argument, courtesy of Richard Honey KC, Ned Westaway and Esther Drabkin-Reiter, counsel at FTB Chambers.

The court of appeal has granted leave to the Open Spaces Society to intervene in the Dartmoor backpack-camping case, in support of the Dartmoor National Park Authority.

Brat Tor and Great Links, Dartmoor Photo: Open Spaces Society

Brat Tor and Great Links, Dartmoor. Photo: Open Spaces Society

The right to backpack camping (often also referred to as ‘wild camping’) on the Dartmoor commons was challenged by landowners Alexander and Diana Darwall, owners of Stall Moor common, in the high court.  The judge, Sir Julian Flaux, ruled [1] that there was no such right under the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985, but the Dartmoor National Park Authority, defending the case for backpack camping, won leave to appeal to the court of appeal.  Now we shall join it in fighting the case.

We have for the last 158 years been defending the common land of England and Wales, and people’s rights of access there.  We shall bring additional information and expertise to this debate based on its long experience of the laws relating to common land and rights of public access.

Says our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook: ‘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 2023.

[1] The judgment of Sir Julian Faux, Chancellor of the High Court, in Darwall v Dartmoor National Park Authority.

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