A WEALTHY landowner has won a High Court battle giving him the right to have wild campers removed from his estate, with wider implications for the whole of Dartmoor.
Large swathes of Dartmoor fall under unique local laws which supposedly made it the only place in England and Wales where people had the right to overnight camp without the permission of the landowner.
Hedge fund manager Alexander Darwall has lived on his 4,000 acre estate with his wife Diana for 10 years. It is the sixth-largest estate on Dartmoor.
Lawyers for the Darwalls argued that the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 should exclude wild camping.
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”.
Various outdoors groups – supported by The Dartmoor National Park Authority – believed wild camping was considered a part of ‘open-air recreation’ within the act.
However, 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.”
Despite the Dartmoor National Park Authority maintaining the tradition of camping on Dartmoor had existed for decades, the judge added there was “no local custom of camping which has the force of law”.
Following the judgement today, the Chief Executive of the Dartmoor National Park Authority, Dr Kevin Bishop, said: “We are really disappointed with the outcome but obviously respect the judgment.”
He also added they may appeal the judgement in the future if sufficient grounds present an opportunity to do so but, in the meantime, would be working on amending website information to reflect what areas of Dartmoor may still allow wild camping.
“We are keen to work with landowners and other stakeholders to see how we can sustain opportunities for people to wild camp on Dartmoor,” he explained.
The authority’s website was updated earlier, saying: “The High Court declared on 13 January 2023 that that Section 10(1) of the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 does not confer on the public any right to pitch tents or otherwise make camp overnight on the Dartmoor Commons.
“Therefore, Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) encourages anyone who is planning to wild camp to seek the consent of the landowner.”
The Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 covers some 86,000 acres, 71,000 acres of which permitted wild camping.
The largest landowner in Dartmoor is the Duchy of Cornwall Estate, with almost 70,000 acres. Ever Wild Outdoors has approached The Duchy for reassurances that wild camping will continue to be permitted on its land.
Although not against the law, wild camping can be considered a civil offence in England and Wales.
In Scotland, however, the ‘right to roam’ was introduced in 2003 as part of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act as a way of creating balance between freedom to roam and respect for private property. Members of the public have to access most land and inland water in Scotland for recreation, including wild camping.