A controversial court case win for a Dartmoor landowner who argued that wild camping on Dartmoor was never a legal right has been overturned. Today, the Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) was successful in its appeal against the January high court ruling, marking a significant win for right to roam supporters.
The decision, which outraged right to roam groups and walkers across the country, set a precedent for all land on the Moor, and put camping rights at risk across England (UKH News).
Since 1985, camping and leaving no trace on the Moor was assumed to be allowed under the Dartmoor Commons Act.
Lawyers representing landowner Alexander Darwall argued that camping was not explicitly permitted by the law and that he couldn't move campers off his land even if they were causing a nuisance due to the longstanding tradition of unregulated camping.
The decision to remove people's right to camp on the Blachford Estate, and thus effectively all of Dartmoor, was considered "a significant retrograde step" by walking charity The Ramblers.
In January, a deal was struck in an attempt to save wild camping, in some form, on Dartmoor. The arrangement was put in place to enable people to continue camping in designated parts of the National Park on a permissive basis (UKH News).
The outcome in the High Courts revolved around a discussion of open-air recreation and whether camping fell under this remit. The lawyers representing Darwall argued that the Act referred only to wandering and trespassing, not lingering — and that since camping was merely 'sleeping', it did not count as recreation.
'Sleeping overnight on the commons is not recreation, open-air or otherwise, because you are just asleep,' they argued.
The legal team representing the Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) and the Open Spaces Society provided a counterargument claiming that wild camping is an ancient pastime connected to activities such as stargazing and that it is indeed a recreational activity.
Campaign groups including representatives from the British Mountaineering Council gathered at the High Courts during the hearing on 18 July.
Today, the court of appeal panel ruled that wild camping constitutes open-air recreation and should therefore be permitted on the Commons.
Judge Sir Geoffrey Vos said: 'In my judgment, on its true construction, section 10 (1) of the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 confers on members of the public the right to rest or sleep on the Dartmoor commons, whether by day or night and whether in a tent or otherwise.'
A spokesperson for the Darwall family said: 'We are disappointed by this judgment. This case highlights the many and increasing challenges we face in trying to protect the fragile environment on Dartmoor. Our mission was to conserve this special place. It is regrettable that our role as custodians is greatly diminished.'
Kevin Bishop, the Dartmoor National Park Authority chief executive, said: 'Today's judgment is a reaffirmation of the right to backpack camp on Dartmoor and secures that right for today and future generations. Our sincere hope is that this judgment means we can now move forward, in partnership, with a focus on making sure Dartmoor remains a special place for all to enjoy.'
Commenting on the decision on X (formerly Twitter), The Ramblers wrote: 'The long-cherished right to wild camp on #Dartmoor has been fully re-established. Today's result shows the power of the access community when people work together & challenge threats to our #AccessToNature.'