Duchy of Cornwall leads way in wild camping decision for Dartmoor as agreements are reached with other landowners

THE Duchy of Cornwall estate has revealed it will continue to permit wild camping on its land on Dartmoor, as dozens of smaller landowners agree to follow suit.

The estate owns some 27,300 hectares of land within Dartmoor National Park – an area where, up until last Friday, had been enjoyed by wild campers for decades.

The park’s unique laws were thrown into confusion last week when wealthy landowner Alexander Darwall challenged the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 in the High Court in a bid to prevent people from camping on his land.

The act was created to keep intact the area’s historic custom of allowing access “to all the commons on foot and on horseback for the purposes of open-air recreation”. Darwall’s lawyers argued the Act should exclude wild camping.

High Court judge Sir Julian Flaux sided with the Darwalls, stating the act did not “confer on the public any right to pitch tents or otherwise make camp overnight on Dartmoor Commons. Any such camping requires the consent of the landowner”.

The judgement – originally to deter camping on his 4,000 acres – suddenly meant the ruling’s interpretation applied to the whole of Dartmoor, leaving the Dartmoor National Park Authority with no option but to declare wild camping was not permitted.

However, after being approached by Ever Wild Outdoors and other groups – including DNPA chiefs – the park’s largest landowner has declared it supports wild camping.

“We recognise the many benefits associated with being able to enjoy the natural beauty of Dartmoor, including through wild camping,” a Duchy of Cornwall spokesperson told Ever Wild Outdoors.

“We are pleased to have found a way forward quickly and in partnership with the Dartmoor National Park Authority and other landowners to ensure that this short-duration, back-pack style camping can continue to be enjoyed on Duchy land.”

As a sign of its firm backing, the Duchy even made a clear distinction between wild camping and ‘fly camping’ – something many who follow the general code of wild camping will rejoice at hearing.

The Duchy of Cornwall listed…

  • Access will continue on a permissive basis including for Ten Tors and The Duke of Edinburgh Award training with immediate effect.
  • Working with the Dartmoor National Park Authority, a wild-camping map and clear guidance is being developed, to inform visitors of where they may camp without having to seek additional permission from landowners.
  • As has been the case previously, the wild-camping map and guidance will be periodically reviewed between the DNPA and landowners.
  • ‘Fly camping’, often involving large groups with barbeques or open fires, should not be confused with true wild-camping and will continue to be prohibited.

However, despite offering clarity on the future of wild camping for Dartmoor, swathes of land have still been put out of bounds.

Lobbying for wild camping

Ever Wild Outdoors lobbied the three biggest landowners over the issue – South West Water, Forestry England, and the Duchy of Cornwall.

Forestry England were the first to respond, making it very clear they were siding with the ruling imposed at the High Court.

“Camping of all types is against Forestry Commission byelaws, so Forestry England does not permit wild camping on its land, including Dartmoor,” it said declared.

We are currently awaiting a response from South West Water.

Meanwhile, the Dartmoor National Park Authority has been putting an agreement in place with dozens of landowners adjoining the Duchy estate that should pave the way for wild camping to return across parts of Dartmoor with immediate effect.

It is understood the agreement will come into force when the DNPA publishes an updated map on its website this evening.

While the Duchy of Cornwall decision is a blanket agreement to allow wild camping indefinitely, the agreement with other landowners is deemed a private arrangement that will expire, subject to renewal, in January 2024.

That arrangement is also subject to payment to the landowners, and the right to wild camping could be revoked without notice.

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