What’s the future of wild camping in England after the key Dartmoor court ruling?
Wild camping has just become more difficult on Dartmoor, one of England’s most popular national parks, after a landmark High Court ruling.
The court case also raises questions about the future of the popular Ten Tors Challenge, an annual event where thousands of young people hike and wild camp on the moor.
Dartmoor had been one of the few areas of England and Wales where wild camping without the specific permission of the landowner had been tolerated.
However on Friday (January 13th 2023), the owner of an estate on the moor won the legal right to remove people wild camping on his land.
This ruling overrides local byelaws on Dartmoor which gave wild campers assumed permission.
In what’s being widely seen as a test case for wild camping across England and Wales, the judge Sir Julian Flaux ruled that explicit permission from the landowner is needed.
The court case was brought by hedge fund manager Alexander Darwall and his wife Diana, who own 4000 acres on Dartmoor including Stall Moor.
Their lawyers argued the byelaw in the 1985 Dartmoor Commons Act which marked the historic open access to people on foot or horseback specifically excluded wild camping.
The judge agreed with them and said any right to wild camp would have seen the landowner lose control of his rights to the land.
The court also heard that some wild campers had caused problems with the local environment and livestock.
The ruling is a blow for the Dartmoor National Park Authority which had fought to maintain full open access to Dartmoor.
It argued there was an historic tradition of backpack camping on Dartmoor which was included in the byelaw’s definition of “open-air recreation.”
Backpackers and wild campers had a code of conduct which meant they should leave no trace, stay for a maximum of two nights, and not have fires or barbecues, the park authority stressed.
What was said after the ruling
The park authority said it will consider carefully whether to appeal, it will amend its website advice, and representatives would meet the Dartmoor Common Owners’s Association to ensure wild campers still have the opportunity to camp in Dartmoor with the permission of landowners.
Around 86000 acres of land on Dartmoor is covered by the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985.
Within that, wild camping was allowed on around 71000 acres.
The ruling has saddened and angered backpackers and wilderness campaigners who have vowed to continue wild camping on Dartmoor.
- In Scotland, the legal picture is very different. Wild camping is legal there, and the country has It’s own outdoor access code for wild campers: Wild Camping in Scotland | VisitScotland
What happens if you’re caught wild camping in England? Read our useful blog: What Happens if Caught Wild Camping in England? (2023)