A court case brought by a landowner poses a threat to the victory for wild camping on Dartmoor.
The permission granted by the supreme court for a wealthy landowner to sue could potentially endanger the right to wild camp on Dartmoor once again.
The Dartmoor National Park Authority successfully appealed a ruling that prohibited camping on the moors.
Until January of last year, camping was believed to be permitted under the Dartmoor Commons Act of 1985. However, a judge’s ruling changed this assumption. Previously, this was the only location in England where camping could take place without obtaining consent from the landowner.
The central issue of the case was whether wild camping could be classified as outdoor recreation, resulting in a lengthy discussion during the appeal process. Attorneys representing Alexander Darwall, the owner of the land in question, contended that it did not qualify as such because camping involved only sleeping and not actively partaking in a specific activity.
Following the ruling of the court of appeals, attorneys representing Darwall, a hedge fund manager and the sixth-largest owner of land in Dartmoor, requested that the supreme court review the case.
In 2013, Darwall purchased the Blachford estate, which spans over 1,619 hectares (4,000 acres) in southern Dartmoor. He provides services such as pheasant shooting, deerstalking, and holiday rentals on his property.
His attempts to ban wild campers from using his estate without his permission sparked a large protest movement, with thousands going to Dartmoor to assert their right to camp. It awakened a land rights debate in the UK, with the Labour party weighing in. The party previously said it would legislate for a right to wild camp in all national parks. However, it since appears to have U-turned on its land rights policy.
Lewis Winks, representing the Stars Are For Everyone campaign, stated that the restriction on camping under the stars in Dartmoor sparked a widespread movement for increased land rights in England. This development serves as a confirmation that change is necessary and unavoidable, and will serve as a rallying cry for those who want future generations to have access to these essential liberties.
The concept of being able to camp in the wilderness is a symbol of how our rights in the English countryside are delicate. Darwall’s recent controversial action highlights the importance of having stronger legal safeguards for our ability to enjoy nature.
We are hopeful that the court will make a logical decision and allow for wild camping to continue on the commons of Dartmoor.
According to Darwall’s legal representatives at Landmark Chambers, the high court ruled that the language in the act clearly did not allow for camping on Dartmoor and ruled in favor of the landowners. However, the court of appeal determined that the language did allow for camping and granted an appeal from Dartmoor National Park Authority. The supreme court will have the final say on whether or not the public has the right to camp on Dartmoor commons. This is an important issue that will be definitively resolved by the supreme court.
The highest court will be requested to examine various principles related to interpreting laws, which will be important to legal professionals. Specifically, it will be asked to determine if the court of appeals properly considered relevant background information (i) when identifying the issue that the legislation was addressing and (ii) when deciding if the wording of the law was unclear.