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

Wild campers to protest against landowner’s bid to ban Dartmoor camping

Wild camping at sunrise in English countryside
Alexander Darwall is seeking to remove the public’s right to responsibly wild camp on sections of Dartmoor, which has been permitted since 1985. Photograph: Matt Gibson/Alamy

Wild campers are planning to hold protests against a landowner’s attempts to outlaw sleeping under the stars on Dartmoor.

Rallies attended by those who camp, and those who support the right to, will take place on Dartmoor on Sunday and outside the high court in London on Monday to express fierce public opposition to an attempt to legally overturn the right to camp in Dartmoor national park.

Next week, the high court will rule on the legal challenge brought by Alexander Darwall, a hedge fund manager and Dartmoor’s sixth largest landowner, against the national park. Darwall, the owner of the 1,619-hectare (4,000-acre) Blatchford estate on southern Dartmoor, is seeking to remove the public’s right to responsibly wild camp on sections of the moor, which has been permitted since 1985. His moorland estate offers pheasant shoots, deerstalking and holiday rentals.

Darwall’s lawyers, in papers filed earlier this year, assert that the right of access granted by the Dartmoor Commons Act “does not include a right of wild camping”. They argue that “members of the public are not entitled … to pitch tents or otherwise occupy Stall Moor overnight … except with the claimant’s consent”.

They hope to overturn the right to wild camp on Dartmoor entirely, as they “cannot effectively enforce their rights against members of the public”.

Darwall claims increasing numbers of people are camping on the moor, with some lighting fires, which could burn many acres of moorland. He also says they have left behind litter, including camping equipment and human waste. He adds there has been antisocial behaviour, with parties causing noise and light pollution, as well as people poaching fish.

But campaigners say that the majority of wild campers are respectful, and that the minority who are breaking these rules would camp anyway even if it was outlawed. They argue that the right to wild camp is precious and should not be taken away.

The rallies are organised by the campaign group The Stars Are For Everyone, which is backed by the Right to Roam campaign and the Campaign for National Parks.

Dr Rose O’Neill, the chief executive of the Campaign for National Parks, said: “National parks like Dartmoor have been protected for decades with the twin purposes of conserving wildlife and enabling public enjoyment. The right to camp on the moor is an important part of this.

“Now is the time when the government should be providing national park authorities with the powers and the investment they desperately need to deliver those twin purposes. The national parks are on their knees after a decade of damaging government cuts. We support the Dartmoor national park authority’s position in this case and look to the government to act to ensure every child has a right to a night under the stars.”

Amy-Jane Beer of the Right to Roam campaign added: “With nature connection in the UK at an all time low – the worst in Europe – the transformative experience of spending a night or several under open skies is needed now more than ever.”

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