Landowners’ authorized problem is ‘assault’ on Dartmoor wild tenting, courtroom informed


The legal challenge by two landowners over the right to camp in Dartmoor National Park is an “attack” on “a long-established practice of great importance”, the High Court has been told.

Alexander and Diana Darwall, who have lived at Blachford Manor in Devon since 2013, believe camping “commonly poses problems and risks” that “are getting worse and worse,” a judge said.

The farming couple, who have a herd of cattle on the moor, are seeking a court determination that “members of the public shall not be entitled … to erect tents or otherwise occupy Stall Moor overnight” except with their consent.

The couple’s 3,450-acre estate on southern Dartmoor includes land on the secluded Stall Moor, with its website promoting pheasant hunting, deer hunting and holiday rentals.

Their High Court case, against which the Dartmoor National Park Authority is being defended, focuses on the interpretation of a 1985 law regulating access to the moorland, with the hedge fund manager and his wife arguing that that is not its purpose “To advise the public on a camping right,” her attorney said.

The park authority argues that wild camping — where backpackers stay away from traditional campgrounds — is allowed as long as people don’t cause harm or violate local restrictions.

Designated in 1951, Dartmoor National Park covers an area of ​​368 square miles and has “an international reputation as a vast, picturesque, rugged and wild place,” said the parks authority attorney.

Campaigners for the right to roam and Green MP Caroline Lucas protested their rejection of the legal challenge earlier this week in the High Court in London.

At a hearing on Tuesday, Timothy Morshead KC, for the Darwalls, said they were looking to “improve practices in the area” and that it was better to seek the court’s legal advice than to pursue trespassing allegations against “any unfortunate person”.

He said in written arguments that a provision of the Dartmoor Commons Act outlines how “the public shall have a right of access to the Commons on foot and on horseback for the purposes of outdoor recreation”.

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Mr Morshead said the Darwalls were “not questioning the right of the public to walk and ride on the Commons” but whether they would be allowed to camp there.

He said the 1985 law was designed to address “a perceived lack of roaming rights” and that it was “not part of the legislative purpose to remove the requirement for landowners’ consent to camp”.

Mr Morshead argued: “Throughout the history of Parliament’s interventions in this area, camping has been excluded from what the public could do under the heading ‘recreation’.”

Sheep graze on the edge of Dartmoor National Park (Chris Ison/PA)

The solicitor contended that none of the evidence in the case contained “any indication” of the existence of a “camping custom” in Dartmoor, where at the time the 1985 Act was created a permit from the landowner was required for camping.

Parks authority representative Timothy Leader said at Tuesday’s hearing that “camping is a form of open recreation that is permitted on the common areas.”

The solicitor said in written submissions that there was evidence of a “local custom” of wild camping on Dartmoor, arguing there was “no compelling evidence” that it was damaging Stall Moor’s ecology or that it “resulted in significant nuisance”. .

Mr Leader, who differentiated between “conventional camping” and “wild camping” in court, said there was no record of previous challenges regarding the latter, which involved “camping for a short period of time and leaving no trace to avoid the.” Better to enjoy pleasures of Dartmoor”.

In written submissions, Mr Leader said the Darwalls had a “narrow” interpretation of the 1985 Act, adding that wild camping was a form of recreation which “has been enjoyed on Dartmoor for over 100 years”.

Stall Moor offers the public a “wilderness experience” and wild camping is “fully compatible with the purposes and characteristics of the national park”.

Mr Leader said the statutes enacted by the Parks Authority create local rules, including camping, which “strike a balance between the interests of those who manage Dartmoor and the visiting public”.

The Parks Authority is promoting regulation of wild camping by posting a map on its website showing where it’s allowed and providing guidance on staying within the statute, Mr Leader said.

The solicitor said the Darwalls’ case was “an attack” on the legality of existing statutes and policies relating to camping on Dartmoor and that should the couple receive a court declaration it would “disrupt a long-established practice which has been defendants is of great importance. the public and other interested parties, e.g. B. the Hiking Association”.

The hearing before Sir Julian Flaux is continuing with a verdict expected at a later date.