31Jul23 – Court of Appeal gives green light for wild camping on Dartmoor
The Court of Appeal ruling comes after a High Court ruled that legislation did not allow people to wild camp on Dartmoor Commons earlier this year
Members of the public have the right to wild camp in Dartmoor National Park, the Court of Appeal has ruled.
In January, a High Court judge ruled a nearly 40-year-old piece of legislation did not give people the right to pitch tents overnight on Dartmoor Commons without landowners permission.
Alexander and Diana Darwall brought a successful legal challenge against the Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA), claiming some campers cause problems to livestock and the environment.
Earlier this month, the DNPA asked appeal judges to overturn Sir Julian Flauxs decision, arguing he had the wrong interpretation of a 1985 law over rights of access to Dartmoor Commons.
In a ruling on Monday, Sir Geoffrey Vos, Lord Justice Underhill and Lord Justice Newey granted the appeal, finding that the law 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 as long as byelaws are followed.
Sir Julian had previously found that the meaning of the legislation was clear and unambiguous in that it conferred a right to roam which did not include a right to wild camp without permission.
His judgment was labelled a huge step backwards by campaigners who claimed there was a long-established precedent of wild camping in the national park in Devon.
Dartmoor National Park, designated in 1951, covers a 368-square mile area that features commons areas of unenclosed privately owned moorland where locals can put livestock.
The DNPA previously said backpack campers can access nearly 52,000 acres of common land across the national park and can stay overnight under a new permissive system as long as they follow a code of conduct.
Dartmoor wild camping to resume after appeal win
The hearing, which took place two weeks ago included some bizarre exchanges between the lawyers and judges.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hX8eKP-OFc
Timothy Morshead KC acting for the Darwalls, had argued that sleep cannot be considered to be “recreation” as you are not conscious.
But Sir Geoffrey Vos, one of the judges presiding said there was no difference between a walker or painter who rested on the ground after their activity and fell asleep and a walker that came into the park and erected a tent.
Morshead said that the Darwalls took objection to the erection of tent ‘structures’.
The judges proceeded to ask him where the line should be drawn on erecting structures – would inflatable goalposts from Argos for children to play football be allowed, they asked?
Tim Straker KC acting for the Park and OSS said the practice of wild camping does not involve significant structures like camper vans “which on Dartmoor are directed to designated or registered sites”.
The victory was met with delight by environmental charities and campaigners on Monday after the verdict broke.
Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, said it was a huge win for “re-establishing our connection with nature and the land we call home”.
Guy Shrubsole, co-founder of campaign group Right to Roam, said this was not the end of the fight for land rights.
He called for a new Right to Roam Act for England so that wild camping can be extended beyond Dartmoor.
Note: this thinly veiled pantheist ‘rewilding’ report with Green MP Caroline Lucas and group faces painted with eyes in triangles. Part of the XR related anti-Russia ‘Zero Carbon’ Green extremist faction appear to have powerful enough connections to swing this High Court decision
Dartmoor wild camping ban lifted as campaigners win court battle against wealthy landowners
The bitter dispute began when Alexander and Diana Darwall argued that some wild campers on their land caused problems to livestock and the environment and sought a court declaration that members of the public could only pitch tents there overnight with their consent.
Mr and Mrs Darwall won their High Court challenge against the Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) in January, banning people from pitching up on their estate without consent sparking one of the largest-ever protests over public access to Englands countryside.
Ruling in favour of the couple in January, Justice Sir Julian Flaux decided that a 1985 law, which regulates access to moorland, did not provide a right to wild camp.
But the park authority urged appeal judges to overturn his decision, arguing he had the wrong interpretation of the nearly 40-year-old legislation.
In a ruling on Monday, Sir Geoffrey Vos, Lord Justice Underhill and Lord Justice Newey granted the appeal, finding that the law 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 as long as bylaws are followed.
The critical question in the case was whether the court deemed wild camping to count as open-air recreation, and whether it should therefore be permitted on the Commons, said Sir Geoffrey.
He said: The fact that a tent is closed rather than open cannot convert the wild camping from being an open-air recreation into not being one. In my judgment, that walker is still resting by sleeping and undertaking an essential part of the recreation.
Lord Justice Underhill, who agreed with Sir Geoffrey, added: Many people take pleasure in the experience of sleeping in a tent in open country, typically, though not invariably, as part of a wider experience of walking across country, and perhaps engaging in other open-air recreations such as birdwatching, during the day.
It is a perfectly natural use of language to describe that as a recreation, and also as occurring in the open air notwithstanding that while the camper is actually in the tent the outside air will be to some extent excluded.
Welcoming the verdict, park authoritys chair Pamela Woods, said: We are delighted with the Court of Appeals conclusions in this landmark case.
We firmly believed the legislation which formed the focus of this case the Dartmoor Commons Act allowed for backpack camping on certain areas of common land as a form of open-air recreation without the need to get landowners permission first.
Mr and Mrs Darwall keep cattle on Stall Moor, which forms part of their more than 3,450-acre estate in the southern part of Dartmoor, purchased in 2013.
Their initial victory at the High Court in January saw thousands of demonstrators take part in a protest organised by the group Right to Roam, with walkers carrying handpainted signs reading please sir, I want some Moor and the peasants are revolting through Cornwood village and past the Stall Moor.
Sir Julian had previously found at the High Court that the meaning of the 1985 legislation was clear and unambiguous in that it conferred a right to roam which did not include a right to wild camp without permission.
His now-overturned judgment was labelled a huge step backward by campaigners, who said there was a long-established precedent of wild camping in Dartmoor, which was designated a national park in 1951.
Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, which intervened in the case, said in a statement: This is an excellent outcome, we are relieved that the judges ruled unanimously and conclusively that open-air recreation includes backpack camping on the commons.
She added: Following this judgment, Dartmoor remains one of only a handful of places in England where there is a right to backpack camping without the landowners permission.
We should like to see that right extended and we shall campaign with other organisations to achieve this.