…By Henry George for TDPel Media.
Campaigners have voiced their opposition to a judge’s ruling that denied the right to wild camp on Dartmoor without landowners’ permission.
They argue that the ruling, which challenges a nearly 40-year-old legislation, could have implications for bird-watching, fishing, and other activities.
The Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) is appealing the High Court judgment, asserting that the ruling failed to recognize camping as an open-air recreation under the 1985 law governing access rights to Dartmoor Commons.
Concerns Over Uncertainty and Public Interest:
The Open Spaces Society (OSS), a conservation charity supporting the DNPA’s appeal, claims that the judge’s conclusions have created uncertainty and neglected the wider public interest.
A group of protesters, including Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice during the hearing, emphasizing the need to protect Dartmoor and arguing for equal access to its natural beauty.
The Legal Challenge and Interpretation of the Law:
Farmers Alexander and Diana Darwall initiated the legal challenge against the DNPA, citing problems caused by some campers to livestock and the environment.
They won a ruling stating that the Dartmoor Commons Act does not grant the right to wild camp without landowners’ permission.
Timothy Straker KC, representing the DNPA, argued that the judge’s interpretation was incorrect and failed to acknowledge that camping falls within the scope of open-air recreation.
The DNPA maintained that camping has a long-standing tradition on Dartmoor, and that prohibiting it would discourage the public health benefits associated with outdoor activities.
The OSS’s Argument:
Richard Honey KC, representing the OSS, contended that the judge’s ruling effectively made all forms of camping unlawful on Dartmoor Commons.
He criticized the judge for taking a narrow view and failing to recognize that people’s entitlement to be on the commons is not limited to walking or horseback riding.
Honey argued that the law’s purpose was to establish rights of open-air recreation on private land, with camping included, subject to certain safeguards and limitations.
Different Perspectives on Camping:
Tim Morshead KC, representing the Darwalls, acknowledged their objection to camping involving the erection of tents.
He argued that the focus should not be on the meaning of recreation but on the potential difficulties and interference caused by campers to landowners’ rights.
Morshead contended that camping, particularly involving tents, should not be considered open-air recreation, as the purpose of a tent is to provide shelter from the elements.
Debate Over Precedent and Historical Rights:
Morshead criticized the OSS for failing to provide examples of historical camping rights on any common land.
He emphasized that there is no basis in historical precedent for the public to expect the right to erect tents on land granted for public access.
The judge’s ruling was previously criticized by campaigners who argued for a long-established precedent of wild camping on Dartmoor National Park.
Campaigners have contested a court ruling that limits the right to wild camp on Dartmoor without landowners’ permission.
The appeal by the Dartmoor National Park Authority argues that the judge’s interpretation of the law was incorrect and failed to recognize camping as a form of open-air recreation.
Opponents of the ruling, including the Open Spaces Society, highlight the uncertainty created and the potential impact on various outdoor activities.
The court hearing is expected to conclude soon, with a ruling to be delivered at a later date.