Dartmoor: England’s last bastion for wild camping is no more

A High Court ruling has removed the right to wild camp in Dartmoor, the only place in England it had previously been allowed

The High Court decision today (Friday 13 January 2023) which removes individuals' right to wild camp without requesting the landowner’s permission in Dartmoor National Park has been met with dismay and disappointment by campaigners.

Landowners Alexander and Diana Darwall challenged the right of wild camping on their land in the southern part of Dartmoor, following reported episodes of irresponsible camping and fly tipping during the coronavirus lockdowns.

These episodes were widely condemned by outdoor enthusiasts and has been recognised by the National Park as not representative of those who have camped on the moor.

Wild camping is not illegal in England, but just like cycling on a footpath can constitute as trespass, which is a matter for the civil courts.

In England and Wales, camping outside designated campsites is not permitted without the landowner’s permission. Previously Dartmoor was the only exception, and, similar to Scotland, wild camping was allowed.

The High Court changes this, as it has ruled a 1985 law regulating access to the moorland does not provide a right to wild camp.

Dartmoor National Park Authority defended the High Court claim and on Twitter stated: “We're disappointed with the result of the wild camping legal challenge. We'll consider our position before deciding if to appeal and also discuss with landowners. We maintain wild camping is key part of open-air recreation, a way to enjoy Dartmoor.”

Also on Twitter, Labour shadow minister for environment, Alex Sobel MP called for National Parks to be more accessible not less, saying, “Our National Parks should be open to all and access to Dartmoor is integral to that.

“Labour will expand the right to roam as part of our programme for Government.

“Our natural spaces are here for us all to share for biodiversity, wellbeing and equity.”

This case demonstrates how legislation on public access to the countryside needs radical overhaul

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK's head of campaigns

This is supported in the Government’s Landscapes Review: National Parks and AONBS. Known as the Glover review, it says “our system of national landscapes should be a positive force for the nation’s wellbeing” and that we should be looking to increase the public’s opportunities to our National Parks.

Cycling UK, which has promoted responsible wild camping through its #12nightsoutin1year challenge, supports the review and was disappointed at the news.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns said:

"This case demonstrates how legislation on public access to the countryside needs radical overhaul in order to provide access to a wider range of outdoor activities like cycling and wild camping.

“Increased opportunities for the public to access our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding National Beauty are recommended in the Government's Glover review - now is the time to act and enshrine these in law."