The right to wild camp and the knock on effect it will have on bikepacking in England and Wales has effectively been lost. Wealthy landowners, Alexander and Diana Darwall have won their High Court challenge against the right to wild camp without permission in Dartmoor National Park.
The Darwalls are Dartmoor’s sixth-largest landowners and brought the case against the national park, arguing that the right to wild camp on the moors had never existed. Their lawyers had stated that some wild campers and bikepackers on their land had caused problems to livestock and the environment. They have successfully won a court declaration that now means members of the public can only pitch tents on Dartmoor with their consent.
The Dartmoor National Park Authority had attempted to defend against the High Court claim, saying the case was "an attack on a long-established practice of great importance and that they were disappointed with the result." They also intend to consider their position before deciding whether to appeal. Adding that "they hoped to continue in discussion with the landowners and maintain wild camping as a key part of open-air recreation on Dartmoor."
Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns when asked for comment said "This case demonstrates how legislation on public access to the countryside needs a radical overhaul 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."
Campaigners have added that the minority breaking the rules would camp regardless even if it was outlawed and you do wonder with the vastness of the moor how the ruling is going to be enforced. The majority of wild campers are respectful and with social media campaigns like 'Leave No Trace' educating people on the dos and don'ts of enjoying the land responsibly.
From a bikepacking point of view, Dartmoor is a beautiful location and top of many a bikepacker's list is to ride and explore the area. Wild camping of course goes hand in hand with these two-wheeled adventures, so we can only hope common sense can prevail eventually. We'll be following this story closely and will report on any new developments.