Dartmoor National Park Authority has decided to appeal the recent High Court judgement that determined wild camping in the national park is not a legal right.


On 13 January, Sir Julian Faulks ruled that the Dartmoor Commons Act of 1985 contained no provision to camp overnight and that any such camping “requires the consent of the landowner”.

The decision provoked a public outcry, with a large protest held on Stall Moor on the Blachford Estate, owned by Alexander Darwall, the landowner who brought the case.

Protester on Stall Moor. Credit: Sarah Dollar

Dartmoor National Park Authority have now confirmed that it will seek permission to appeal the decision. Chief executive Kevin Bishop said:

“Our National Parks are largely owned by private individuals, and we respect their rights. However, our National Parks were designated by Parliament for their national importance. They have twin purposes: to protect and conserve and to provide opportunities for all parts of society to responsibly enjoy them.

“When the legislation to establish National Parks was introduced it was described as a people’s charter - a people’s charter for the open air, for the hikers and the ramblers, for everyone who lives to get out into the open air and enjoy the countryside. The High Court judgment potentially fetters that charter and seems contrary to the wishes of Parliament.

“While we await determination of the application to appeal, and any subsequent appeal, we remain committed to working in partnership with landowners and other partners to ensure the new permissive system is successful.”

Right to Roam banner, Dartmoor
Right to Roam banner, Dartmoor./Credit: Maria Hodson

Meanwhile, the shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon has said that a Labour government would reverse the Dartmoor wild camping ban by passing a right-to-roam act.

According to a report in The Guardian, the party is drawing up a bill to allow wild camping in national parks and to expand public access to woodlands and waterways.

“There are still huge parts of England and Wales that are off limits when it comes to the right to access, whether that’s woodlands, cliffs, rivers, where the rights that we are afforded in open countryside aren’t then mirrored in those places. That needs to change,” McMahon told The Guardian. He added that the fact that the public has an automatic right to canoe or swim on only 4% of waterways was ‘a scandal’.

“A Labour government would clean up the UK’s waterways for all to enjoy – if people don’t have a stake in their environment, they won’t fight to protect it.”

Woman holds 'Nature Is a Human Right' protest sign
'Nature Is a Human Right' sign on the Right to Roam protest./ Credit: Sarah Dollar

The National Farmers Union, in response, argues that the public has considerable access to nature already in the form of an extensive footpath network.

NFU environment forum chair Richard Bramley said: “The great British countryside is more accessible than ever before with over 200,000km of footpaths, bridleways and greenways.

“This allows the public to value and appreciate the farmed landscapes, helps with wellbeing and connects people with rural areas that they may never have visited before.

“Many popular rural tourist spots are working farmland, where farmers are producing food and working hard to maintain footpaths and public rights of way, so visitors can enjoy our beautiful countryside. We encourage everyone to observe the Countryside Code and not to cross over into damaging private property, food crops or disturbing livestock.

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“Rather than a blanket re-designation for public access, the government should focus on encouraging the use of and modernising our existing extensive network of footpaths and raising awareness with the public of the access rights that already exist.”


Maria Hodson is production editor at BBC Countryfile Magazine, alongside Margaret Bartlett. Since moving to Bristol in 2014, Maria has made every effort to escape into nature and loves all things wild and watery, from surfing and swimming to paddle-boarding and kayaking. Her adventure highlight in recent years was sea kayaking around remote St Kilda, off the coast north-west Scotland, in 2016. Most weekends, however, are spent exploring the great outdoors with her small child and doing accessible walks. Favourite family adventures are bird-watching at Slimbridge Wetland Centre and exploring the Forest of Dean, as well as an annual pilgrimage to see the starling murmuration on the Somerset Levels.