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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Helena Horton Environment reporter

Dartmoor wild camping hopes rise as park wins right to appeal against ban

Hikers wild camping on open moorland on Dartmoor in snow
Hikers wild camping on open moorland on Dartmoor before the ban. Photograph: Lee Pengelly/Alamy

Wild camping may once again be allowed on Dartmoor, after the national park was granted permission to appeal against a decision to ban it.

Alexander Darwall, who bought 1,620 hectares (4,000 acres) of the national park in 2013, took the park authority to the high court last year, arguing that the right to wild camp without a landowner’s permission never existed. In January, a judge ruled in his favour, ending the decades-long assumption that wild camping was allowed.

However, lawyers for the park argue the judgment could be flawed because it hinges on a narrow definition of open-air recreation, where only activities such as walking, horse riding and picnicking are permitted. They also argue that it fails to take into account the historical understanding of the law, which thousands of people, including the park authority, understood to mean a right to camp and leave no trace.

The court of appeals judge, Lady Justice Asplin, ruled that these reasons crossed the threshold for an appeal, and that it was conceivable that the previous judge presiding over the case misconstrued the meaning of open-air recreation, which could include wild camping.

The Dartmoor Preservation Association is fundraising for the appeal. Tom Usher, CEO of the DPA, said: “It’s a travesty that, at a time when the national park is operating under a 48% real-term budget cut over the last 12 years, that we should also be facing the loss of access rights at a time when the benefits of nature-connectedness have never been more vital. We’re supporting Dartmoor national park to appeal this decision and we ask the public to donate what they can to the fund.”

The date for the court hearing is still to be decided, but campaigners are determined that the effort to re-establish the right to sleep under the stars on Dartmoor is far from over.

“The loss of the right to backpack camp on Dartmoor was a hammer blow to public access to the countryside,” said Lewis Winks, from the group Right to Roam. “We lost the right to sleep under the night sky on Dartmoor. This follows a long history of clearances and restrictions placed on people through the ages – it’s simply the most recent chapter of enclosure which has blighted England.

“We’re pleased to see the national park authority has been given permission to appeal this ruling, not only for Dartmoor and its rights, but for all those who have lost, and who stand to lose, their rights to the countryside.”

Lawyers acting for the Darwall family have been approached for comment.

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