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

Landowner accuses Dartmoor officials of ‘acting like campaigners’

Dartmoor sign
Backpack camping, also known as wild camping, was this year made illegal on Dartmoor without landowner permission. Photograph: Harry Trump/Getty Images

A wealthy landowner has accused Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) officials of “acting like campaigners” as they prepare to appeal against a court decision to overturn the right to wild camp.

Earlier this year, as a result of a court case brought by a local landowner, backpack camping, also known as wild camping, was made illegal on Dartmoor without landowner permission, overturning what campaigners claim was a long-held right to camping on the moor.

Alexander Darwall, a hedge fund manager and Dartmoor’s sixth-largest landowner, brought a successful legal case against the national park last year, arguing that the right to wild camp on the moors never existed. Darwall, the owner of the 1,600-hectare (4,000-acre) Blachford estate on southern Dartmoor, offers pheasant shoots, deerstalking and holiday rentals on his land.

On Friday, in a meeting during which the DNPA decided to appeal against the court decision, a spokesperson for the Darwall family embarked on a tirade against the authority. He said on behalf of the landowners that “you are not behaving as a public authority should. You are behaving like a campaigning organisation” and accused the DNPA of “indulging a mass trespass”.

Earlier this year, thousands of campaigners descended on Dartmoor to assert their right to wild camp. However, despite claims by the agent, it was not legally a “trespass” as there is a right to roam across the national park.

The spokesperson said the DNPA had acted in a “biased” way and criticised it for thinking of funding its appeal with money from the Dartmoor Preservation Association, which has so far raised more than £50,000 for legal fees. The legal case has been costly so far for the DNPA, which has recently had to shut visitor centres because of a lack of funds.

The landowner’s spokesperson said: “If you take money from external bodies to fund a legal campaign indeed you encourage that funding … that is unwise for a public authority.”

At the meeting, the DNPA voted to appeal against the court decision. Tom Usher, from the Dartmoor Preservation Association, said: “This is an excellent decision by the board members of DNPA. The massive public interest and financial support offered by thousands of people has been astonishing and we look forward to working with the national park to keep Dartmoor wild and free for all.”

Lewis Winks, from campaign group The Stars are for Everyone, said: “We are delighted that the appeal will now be heard. The regressive ruling must be challenged, and the right to camp on Dartmoor to be firmly re-established. We applaud DNPA members for showing leadership and making a stand for this vital principle of access. Wild camping is a right which we hope people will be able to enjoy for generations to come – here on Dartmoor and, in time, elsewhere in England.”

The DNPA chief executive, Dr Kevin Bishop, said: “The decision to appeal [against] the high court judgment, which concerns the legal meaning of the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985, raises important issues of public interest that are central to the purpose of our national parks.

“While we proceed with our case, we remain committed to working with landowners and partners to ensure people enjoy Dartmoor, respect that it’s a privately owned landscape, and that they leave no trace of their visit. We’re grateful to the landowners who, after the high court judgment, moved quickly to grant permission for people to backpack camp on their land.”

Lawyers acting for the Darwalls have been contacted for comment.

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