The ban on wild camping and the effect it would have on self-supported bike packing on Dartmoor has sparked a host of protests from the devastated outdoor community.
Wealthy landowners, Alexander and Diana Darwall had won their High Court challenge against the right to wild camp in Dartmoor National Park, arguing that the right to wild camp on the moors had never existed and that wild campers and bikepackers had caused problems to livestock and the environment.
They successfully won a court declaration that meant members of the public could only pitch tents on Dartmoor with the landowner's consent which has triggered a call to arms from right-to-roam groups, and saw one of the UK's biggest ever access protests of over 3,000 people, last weekend on Dartmoor.
In what's seen as a positive move, first reported in the Guardian (opens in new tab), the public outcry has triggered debate in parliament with the Labour shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon saying, "There are still huge parts of England and Wales that are off limits when it comes to the right to access, whether that’s woodlands, cliffs, rivers, where the rights that we are afforded in open countryside aren’t then mirrored in those places. That needs to change." and added, "A Labour party elected government would look to pass a right to roam act and reverse the Dartmoor ban."
Labour's plans, which are currently being drawn up, could see a new law in place that would allow National Parks to adopt the right to wild camp, as well as expand public access to woodlands and waterways – all providing of course, that Keir Starmer's party wins the next UK election.
The Right to Roam campaign said in response, "We welcome the Labour party’s commitment to legislating for an expanded right to roam as part of their programme for government and look forward to engaging with them on the details. Last week’s historic protest on Dartmoor, attended by over 3,000 people demonstrates the huge public appetite for increasing access to nature. We call on MPs of all parties to publicly support a right to roam act to defend and extend the rights of all people to access nature."
Like the turning of a bikepacker's wheels, this looks like a story that will continue to roll on and on, and unless an earlier one is called, the next general election isn't due until January 2025. So there could be plenty of debate and protests still to come.