A Conservative MP who received thousands in a donation from a wealthy landowner who took Dartmoor National Park Authority to court has refused to comment on a legal decision that has led to a ban on wild camping in the park.
Last week, the right to wild camp in England and Wales was lost after hedge fund manager Alexander Darwall successfully brought a case against Dartmoor national park. It was the last place it was possible to wild camp without seeking permission.
Darwall, Dartmoor’s sixth-largest landowner, brought the case against the national park authority, arguing that the right to wild camp on the moors never existed. Darwall, the owner of the 1,619-hectare (4,000-acre) Blachford estate on southern Dartmoor, offers pheasant shoots, deerstalking and holiday rentals on his land.
Anthony Mangnall, the MP for Totnes, which is near the national park, has told constituents: “MPs should not and do not comment on legal cases.”
Mangnall registered a £5,000 contribution to his campaign office from Darwalls in 2020.
Guy Shrubsole, a constituent of Mangnall’s and campaigner with Right to Roam, said: “I’ve wild camped on Dartmoor since taking part in Ten Tors as a teenager. Like thousands of other people in Totnes and the South Hams, I’d like my MP, Anthony Mangnall, to be standing up and defending the right to wild camp on the moor.
“But many of his constituents are now wondering if a hefty donation from the landowner has effectively bought his silence.”
Other local MPs have been happy to comment on the legal matter now the case is closed.
Richard Foord, the Liberal Democrat MP for Tiverton and Honiton, said: “I am deeply concerned by the ruling on wild camping at Dartmoor. As a child, I wild camped on Dartmoor when training for the Ten Tors expedition and for the Duke of Edinburgh award. Without these experiences I would not have joined the army or trained to be a mountain leader.“
Luke Pollard, the Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, added: “People in Plymouth and across the south-west cherish Dartmoor as the only national park where wild camping remained legal. It is wrong to outlaw this long-held tradition to appease the shortsighted interest of a select few.”
The case was also mentioned in parliament on Monday by the shadow environment secretary, Jim McMahon, who said the high court ruling was “seemingly putting the financial interest of one person above the fundamental access rights that have been provided for in this house”. He asked for the environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, to make an oral statement on the matter so it could be discussed by MPs in parliament.
Clare Coyne, an ecotherapist and one of Mangnall’s constituents said: “It is beyond belief that in the times we find ourselves in, where the mental wellbeing of so many people is compromised, that Anthony Mangnall MP will not publicly condemn the recent ruling by the high court in favour of the Darwalls and against the right to wild camp on Dartmoor.
“The beauty of this area and the part it can play in supporting people’s mental health is something that should be recognised and invested in not demolished due to private interest.”
Lewis Winks, another constituent and right to roam campaigner, added: “The erosion of our rights of access and of ability to connect with nature is to the detriment of us all – if Anthony Mangnall truly cares about his constituents and his country he’d be condemning this backwards decision as so many others now are.”
Mangnall said that the donation was not to him personally but to the local Conservative campaign.
He added: “Regarding the high court’s decision about wild camping, I do not believe it is right for a member of parliament to second guess legal experts, especially given the independence of the courts. However, it is clear that the decision is a huge disappointment to many people, both locally and nationally, and I understand that Dartmoor National Park Authority is considering its next steps. Please note there is no question as to the public’s right to walk and ride on the commons, and everyone may continue to do so.
“Regarding the donation Mr Darwall gave to the Totnes Conservative Association, I should make it clear that this money did not go to me personally but to my association. That donation was given in late 2019 and no further donations have been made. This donation was in line with the rules set out by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.”
The Dartmoor National Park Authority is consulting with its legal team with a view to appealing against the decision.
• This article was amended on 18 January 2023. An earlier version referred to Richard Foord as the MP for “Tiveron”. The constituency is Tiverton and Honiton.