In his judgement, Sir Julian Flaux, chancellor of the high court, had agreed with lawyers for Alexander Darwall, a hedge fund manager and Dartmoor’s sixth-largest landowner, who claimed that the right to wild camp on the moors had never existed. Flaux also said there was “no local custom of camping which has the force of law” and that some wild campers had caused problems to livestock and the environment.
The decision announced on Friday now makes it unlawful to pitch a tent on Dartmoor National Park without the landowner’s permission has been rightly condemned by campaign groups. It has also sparked a wave of planned right-to-roam protests with the ruling being seen as highlighting growing divisions in society in general, between the haves and have-nots.
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. https://t.co/sztbn8hQWJ pic.twitter.com/mgUjlIT7yuJanuary 13, 2023
It has also propelled the Labour party into action, with shadow ministers Alex Sobel and Jim McMahon stating that they plan to extend the right to roam including wild camping if they win the next general election.
McMahon, the shadow environment secretary, said he is planning to push the Dartmoor case in parliament this week, adding, “This looks like nothing more than protecting the landowner’s financial interest above the public interest.”
The Guardian website reported that following the ruling, Right to Roam campaigners met at the Angel, a community space in Totnes, Devon, to build a model of Old Crockern, the ancient spirit of Dartmoor, to bring to a protest against the high court ruling on Darwall’s land this Saturday 21st January.
Lewis Winks, a campaigner for the Stars Are for Everyone, said, "The plan was to fight back to create a new right to roam act that would expand access for everyone – not just on Dartmoor – to make wild camping more widely available. We will ensure that we have better access to the countryside.” And added, "we are calling on everyone who loves Dartmoor to join us in opposition. We have an Eventbrite page that gives all the information for this coming Saturday's protest."
As we reel from the news that wild camping is no longer legal on Dartmoor, we call on 'Old Crockern', ancient protector of the Moors, to help oppose this decision.✨Join us and @Right_2Roam next Saturday to call on Old Crockern and resist this ruling.https://t.co/YDnSHuobYHJanuary 13, 2023
The Dartmoor National Park Authority plans to appeal the decision and have highlighted the 1985 Dartmoor Commons Act which permits access “to all the commons on foot, bicycle and on horseback" and the Government’s 2019 Landscape Review, known as the Glover Report, which stated the UK’s National Parks should be used as a “positive force for the nation’s well being”.
The ruling has certainly ignited strong feelings and with mass trespass and protests being planned and people choosing to ignore the law claiming it's impossible to stop people wild camping on Dartmoor, it certainly looks like a case that is set to rumble on.