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Land access protesters win landmark victory

After a lengthy and complicated court case, three judges have ruled that so-called 'wild camping' must be permitted on Dartmoor

wild camping

Wildcamping on Dartmoor

In January this year, an estimated 3,000 people flocked to Cornwood in Dartmoor, then the site of some spectacular pheasant shooting, to protest a ban on what some call ‘wild camping’, which effectively means camping outside a designated camp site.

The landowner, Alexander Darwall, reportedly a keen Shot and salmon fisherman, had had enough of litter on his ground and brought a successful case to have ‘wild camping’ banned.

A number of conservationists felt the decision was the right one and supported Mr Darwall’s claim that footfall was limiting his ability to promote biodiversity on his land. However, the protestors saw things differently and claimed that Mr Darwall had robbed them of their right to sleep out under the stars.

The ruling, which was made by the High Court, was appealed by the Dartmoor National Park authority and the case was heard last month. Mr Darwall’s barrister argued that ‘wild camping’ didn’t constitute ‘recreation’. Shooting Times was present in court and we approached Mr Darwall to talk about conservation but he declined to speak.

On 31 July, the High Court handed down their judgement that the right to camp must be reinstated on the moor. Sir Timothy Vos, who headed up the court of appeal panel, concluded that in 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 spokesman for the Darwall family expressed regret and said that the ruling makes it even harder for them to look after their land. It is possible that Mr Darwall could appeal but those who have been following the case carefully reckon that he has had enough. Activists have started referring to Mr Darwall, a successful hedge fund manager, as Comrade Darwall as they feel he has drawn attention to the issue they are campaigning for and Labour have said they will enact a Right to Roam Act if they win power at the next election.