CAMPAIGNERS have joined Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) in hailing a landmark legal judgment which has formally confirmed the right of people to wild camping on the moor.

The ‘historic’ Court of Appeal ruling on Monday reaffirmed the right of people to enjoy overnight backpack camping as part of open air recreation on the moor. This right had been challenged by moorland landowner Alexander Darwall who won his case outlawing it, until the DNPA appealed against the decision. The DPA argued wild camping was an ancient tradition and popular pastime on Dartmoor – that gazing at the stars and waking to the sound of the dawn chorus was open air recreation. After the right to wild camp was banned by the High Court last January wildcampers had to seek permission from the landowners, through the DNPA.

Pamela Woods, Chair of Dartmoor National Park Authority, said: “We are delighted with the Court of Appeal’s 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.”

Dr Kevin Bishop, Chief Executive/National Park Officer for Dartmoor National Park Authority, said: “Monday’s judgement is a re-affirmation of the right to backpack camp on Dartmoor and secures that right for today and future generations. 

“This means people can experience the joys of backpack camping on Dartmoor, provided everyone follows the leave no trace principle and, critically, only camp in the areas that are identified in the online backpack camping map that is on the authority’s website.”

The Dartmoor Preservation Association (DPA) hailed the judgement as a momentous victory for the spirit of exploration and ensured a connection with the wilderness is preserved for generations. 

Tom Usher, DPA CEO, said: “We are delighted with the court’s decision, it is the right and fair judgement for so many that love Dartmoor. It reaffirms that rights are more valuable than mere permissions. 

“The DPA helped set up a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for the DNPA legal costs. The DPA said the judgement proved that open-air recreation does include the right to backpack camping and that the vast amount of public interest was valid under the law.

A spokesman said: “We are immensely proud of the role we, along with our partners, including The Stars are for Everyone and Open Spaces Society, have played in convincing the National Park to pursue the appeal. This collaborative achievement is a testament to the power of a united community dedicated to preserving the natural beauty and freedom that Dartmoor represents.

“We can now embrace a future where the National Park remains a sanctuary for explorers to pitch their tents, immerse themselves in the stunning landscapes, and forge a deeper connection with the natural world.” 

Congratulations to Dartmoor National Park Authority for a historic win on behalf of the public interest. As we celebrate this momentous occasion, the DPA recognises the responsibility that accompanies it. We remain dedicated to our ongoing work, ensuring that Dartmoor’s natural splendour is safeguarded, cherished, and preserved for future generations.

Sam McNeill, who runs Ice Warrior environmental expeditions with husband Jim from Princetown, said: “Finally the law has been applied with good sense and the Court of Appeal has overturned the previous ruling. Those people who already know how to backpack and wild camp properly on Dartmoor can do so again knowing they are within the law. But the interested stakeholders must continue to educate people visiting Dartmoor to curb the anti social behaviour of ‘festival campers’ who don’t understand how to treat Dartmoor with respect”

Lewis Winks, of The Stars are for Everyone, said: “A permission is not the same as a right – and now the court has seen sense and re-established people’s right to camp without needing permission in Dartmoor National Park. “Fundamentally this means that access to a night under the stars on one of the UKs most iconic landscapes now does not rely on the whims of individual landowners but is owned by ordinary people.  We hope this will now serve as a blueprint for other places to follow suit. 

“Nature-connectedness in the UK is the lowest across the whole of Europe. We must extend guaranteed rights of access across the UK. Of course, this has to be done responsibly, no one seeks to destroy the very thing we so need connection to, but we cannot even begin to properly have those discussions until the rights now offered on Dartmoor are extended more widely. 

“For this reason, and encouraged by today’s ruling, we will continue to push for a new Right to Roam Act for England that defends and extends the public’s right to access nature.

“We thank all those that have supported the campaign to date, and thank the officers and members of Dartmoor National Park Authority for pursuing this case.”