Threat to our age-old freedom on Dartmoor

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A high court case, which opens today, could determine the future enjoyment of wild camping in the Dartmoor National Park. Alexander Darwall, the owner of Stall Moor common on Dartmoor, claims that the right of access under the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 does not include the right to wild camp. People have enjoyed this activity on Dartmoor for centuries, without causing any impact.

The future enjoyment of wild camping in the Dartmoor National Park is under threat. Photo: Open Spaces Society

The society fears that, if the landowner wins his case, not only will the right to enjoy wild camping on Dartmoor be lost, but landowners all over the country will clamp down on this activity, which occurs in many places by custom and with toleration. Signs may go up and innocent walkers could feel threatened.

Says our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook: ‘This threat comes at a time when our freedom to enjoy the fresh air, day and night, has never been more important. The pandemic demonstrated the importance of this activity, for health and well-being, and for education. We need to witness nature to be inspired to defend it.

A high court case begins today, Tuesday 13 December. Photo: Open Spaces Society

‘I was involved in the passage of the Dartmoor Commons Bill through parliament. I was assistant to Anthony Steen, the MP who sponsored it on behalf of Devon County Council and the Dartmoor National Park Authority. I do not recall that wild camping was ever mentioned, it was understood to be part of the right of access on foot and horseback which the bill, a pioneering measure, was promoting.

‘Wild camping is a low-key activity and it is ridiculous to make such a fuss about it. We wish the national park authority all the best in its endeavours to see off this pernicious court case.’

Watch Kate’s interview on ITV Westcountry here.

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