The battle to save the wild camping in Dartmoor

Boudicca Fox Leonard and her partner Harry camp on Dartmoor – John Lawrence

Our national parks and open spaces were a lifeline during the Covid blockades. Record numbers have headed for the likes of Dartmoor National Park in Devon, often trampling the moors for the first time.

The legacy of this should be a generation of outdoor enthusiasts who appreciate the beauty and balm of nature. Yet the negligent actions of some during that strange episode in history are now threatening a right that has been exercised over Dartmoor for generations.

In June, Alexander Darwall, a hedge fund manager in the city, filed a request with the High Court seeking to end wild camping on his Dartmoor estate without his permission. Dartmoor is currently the only place in England and Wales where it is possible to legally set free camp, a right that has been protected in the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 and subsequent statutes.

Darwall and his wife Diana own around 3,000 acres, including Stall Moor, home to an impressive stone circle called the Dancers, and one of the designated areas for wild camping. However, the couple say an increasing number of people are camping out on the moor, lighting fires, leaving litter boxes and hunting down fish.

Boudicca Fox Leonard goes wild camping in Dartmoor - John Lawrence

Boudicca Fox Leonard goes wild camping in Dartmoor – John Lawrence

The Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) has refuted the substance of this allegation. Among defenders of the right to wander, there is a fear that the Covid period will be used as an excuse to curb the rights of wild camping.

“Undoubtedly there have been deplorable actions by a small group of people who ‘camped in flight’ on Dartmoor during the Covid lockdown in 2020/1,” says Tom Usher, a Devon resident and Dartmoor enthusiast. a veteran wild camper on the moor. But trying to ban the wild campers from Dartmoor isn’t the solution, says the former soldier.

“The solution is a better and broader understanding of our National Parks; most of the errors were not intentional, but caused by a lack of familiarity with how national parks should be treated. The answer is more exposure to the National Parks, not less.

He adds: “It should also be noted that the number of visitors has not peaked like in 2020”.

Fly-camping is a term for people who leave all their equipment, including tents and camping chairs, after they leave. Flying campers typically use disposable barbecues, gather in large groups, and raise their tents during the day.

In contrast, wild camping is conducted in small groups, with campers carrying all their gear and adhering to the National Park’s wild camping map. Low profile tents are generally used, with campers coming in late and leaving early, taking away all their trash and respecting the environment of the National Park and its inhabitants.

Boudicca Fox Leonard and her partner Harry camp on Dartmoor - John Lawrence

Boudicca Fox Leonard and her partner Harry camp on Dartmoor – John Lawrence

Usher is the CEO of the Dartmoor Preservation Association (DPA), an independent membership body that advocates for Dartmoor’s natural beauty and cultural heritage and, with it, wild camping.

As an organism, it is not convinced that the Darwalls’ motives are closely related to camping with flies. Since buying the Blachford Estate in 2011, where they rent cottages and offer pheasant sprouts and deer chase, the Darwalls have come into conflict with the vagabonds over their decision to end parking permits for access to Stall Moor. . They are now looking for a statement that “members of the public have no right … to pitch tents or otherwise occupy Stall Moor overnight … except with the consent of the actor.”

They argue that Section 10 of the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 does not allow wild camping, only “on the go” recreational activities.

Usher calls the case currently under consideration by the High Court for judicial review “very worrying”.

“It might be cheaper for Blachford’s pheasant hunting operation if wild camping is banned. However, it would be an outrage to restrict wild campers’ access to a National Park in favor of an exclusive activity that only a few enjoy. Wild camping has long been a tradition on Dartmoor and should not be sacrificed for a landowner’s sport. “

When contacted for comment, the Blachford Estate did not respond.

Wild camping in Dartmoor - John Lawrence

Wild camping in Dartmoor – John Lawrence

However, John Howell, landowner and president of the Dartmoor Commons Owners Association, says the case reflects the frustrations shared by many landowners. Howell says the number of visitors is significantly higher than in 1985 and that the DNPA does not have adequate resources to repair damage caused by public access: “Landowners are forced to accept unpaid liability to bear the costs of repairs. of the damage caused by the fly – camping and outdoor recreation. ” Howell would also appreciate more consultation with the DNPA on which areas should be in designated areas for camping.

The threat to wild camping is a topic that is close to my heart. When rock climbing is your hobby, wild camping allows you to hike to more remote bulls and wake up at 7am on the moor in time to beat the lunchtime downpour that sends you home to the rest of the weekend.

It is a pastime that depends entirely on the goodwill of the landowners, access delicately negotiated by the British Mountaineering Council. It is never taken for granted. One of Dartmoor’s most fascinating tor, Vixen Tor, the legendary abode of the witch named Vixana, as well as classic rock climbing, is banned for hikers and climbers by a 2011 court ruling in favor of the landowner.

Wild campers have no desire to abuse such fragile rights. It means camping in designated areas, away from roads and houses, setting up at dusk and setting up your tent at dawn. If you see a piece of stray litter, most likely left by a hiker, take it home.

Having to ask for permission for a wild camp would add a layer of complexity that contrasts with the light touch of wild camping.

Wild camping - John Lawrence

Wild camping – John Lawrence

The DNPA owns 3,590 acres of the 235,700 acres that make up Dartmoor. The remainder is made up of private landowners, the largest of which are the Duchy of Cornwall, Lord Roborough’s Maristow Estate and the National Trust. Who owns what can be confusing. In the past, when I phoned the Maristow estate to ask for permission to climb, no one answered me. They are just one of the many thousands who exercise their right quietly, without a trace.

Over the next few months, Stall Moor will be used by the youngsters who train for the Ten Tors challenge in May next year. Operated by the army for the past 60 years (the MOD owns 3,343 acres of Dartmoor with additional training rights), it is the only mass participation event of its kind in the UK; 2,400 young people participate every year.

For the past 15 years Nigel Coles has organized the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme at the Torquay Girls Grammar School, as well as managing training for the Ten Tors, an integral part of which is how to camp responsibly, dispose of human waste, take away litter (and often junk they find).

“If Mr Darwall and his supporters wish to challenge that right to the wild, they will in effect jeopardize the opportunities for thousands of young people to enjoy the wilderness and meet the challenges of an outdoor team challenge and learn to respect their environment. . It’s a beggar to believe that someone wants to take this opportunity away from our young people, ”says Coles, who is a member of the Right to Roam campaign.

Boudicca Fox Leonard and her partner Harry camp on Dartmoor - John Lawrence

Boudicca Fox Leonard and her partner Harry camp on Dartmoor – John Lawrence

There is no doubt that wild camping rights in Dartmoor are a privilege that offers extraordinary experiences, rare in a world where it is easier to connect with your phone screen than with nature.

Coles recently guided the young campers on a trip to nearby Exmoor, staying at approved campgrounds. “There were hot showers and shops on site. But there was no adventure. It’s not the same, ”Coles says.

If anything he believes we should expand the area where wild camping is possible across the UK rather than remove this right. The pressure on Dartmoor would thus be relieved.

Even if he were to be banned, he says it would not be prosecutable. “The problem with wild camping is that you wouldn’t know people did it because the essence is to leave no trace.”

Visit Snowdonia or Brecon Beacons, parks where wild camping isn’t legally allowed and if you search hard enough you’ll find wild campers.

They will not advertise, because they are there for solitude and peace in the desert.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *