Backpack camping - the story so far
You may well have seen the ongoing saga surrounding backpack camping in the news over the past few months. This page aims to bring that information together to outline the case, our involvement, and our next moves over the upcoming months.
How it began
It was brought to our attention last year that a landowner was seeking to bring a case against Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA), removing the assumed right to camp overnight on their large expanse of land on the southern part of Dartmoor. This case was brought to the High Court and was widely seen as a test case; once the right was overturned on one specific piece of land, it could not be assumed to exist on the rest of Dartmoor either.
The grounds for the ban was said to be a response to irresponsible and destructive practices of ‘fly-camping’ in the area, which is a practice the DPA wholeheartedly opposes. The problem lies in the exclusion of responsible wild, or backpack campers, the latter being a term adopted in recent months by the DNPA to further identify which form of camping they are seeking to protect.
The DNPA goes to court
Over the winter months, the DPA supported the DNPA by providing personal testimonials from our members regarding the beneficial impact of backpack camping spanning over several decades. We have reached out to members and followers alike requesting images and stories that we could share from our platform, and received an overwhelming response in celebration and defence of backpack camping on Dartmoor. We vocally supported the DNPA during the legal proceedings, both in December, then in January as the ruling was delayed.
The ruling didn’t go the way we had hoped. The judgment focused on the interpretation of the wording used within the 1985 Dartmoor Commons Act, and despite the DNPA arguing that backpack camping was a long established ‘settled practice’ of outdoor recreation, the judge determined that camping did not fall within the meaning of “open-air recreation” and therefore ruled that no such right had ever existed under the 1985 Act.
"Backpack camping refers to the practice carrying all of one’s kit in a backpack, pitching solo or in very small groups and leaving no trace.
This is the practice that the DNPA are defending: one which provides invaluable experiences, education opportunities and mental health benefits."
"Until the ruling, Dartmoor National Park was the last remaining enclave in England where responsible backpack campers were free to pitch in the wilderness.
This was seen as a real ‘feather in the cap’ for many Dartmoor-based outdoor enthusiasts, a proud part of our heritage."
Submissions to our 'Backpack Camping Over the Years' photo callout
Things have happened quickly in the wake of the public and media attention the ruling has brought. Many people were outraged by the decision; at a time when experiencing the natural world feels more important than ever, the ruling felt like a further attack on access rights to our precious open spaces. The DPA sent an open letter to the Chair of the DNPA, urging its members to seek leave to appeal the decision and foster an agreed interim ‘permissive map’ so that backpack campers did not lose the ability to access Dartmoor overnight.
The latter was achieved swiftly between the Dartmoor Commons Owners’ Association and the DNPA and an interactive map of permitted backpack camping areas was reinstated on the DNPA website. We commended the DNPA and Dartmoor Commons Owners’ Association for working so quickly to limit the damage the case has caused to the community of backpack campers, including Duke of Edinburgh and Ten Tors teams, but continued to urge the DNPA to fight the case further in the Court of Appeals.
The public push back
As thousands of people marched onto Stall Moor alongside Right to Roam and the Stars are for Everyone, DPA CEO Tom Usher spoke on a panel of campaigners, politicians and local bodies. He argued that by accepting these terms and not fighting the decision, the future of backpack camping can be revoked at any time by the landowners, “we risk having a permissive Dartmoor, not a Dartmoor which is wild and free.” It was around this time that the DPA joined forces with the highly skilled and motivated group of individuals and organisations united under the #SaveDartmoor campaign. The following day, DNPA members unanimously agreed to seek leave to appeal through the Court of Appeals.
"It's a travesty that, at a time when the national park is operating under a 48% real-term budget cut over the last 12 years, that we should also be facing the loss of access rights, when the benefits of nature-connectedness have never been more vital.
We're supporting Dartmoor National Park Authority to appeal this decision and we ask the public to donate what they can to the fund."
-Tom Usher, CEO
The bottom line
It’s important at this point to note the context in which this case is happening. In November, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed a three-year ‘flat-grant settlement’ for the country's 10 national parks up to 2025/26 - in effect, funding was frozen. The DNPA was facing £500,000 of real-terms cuts and the future of Princetown Visitor Centre fell under a cloud. Defra has since awarded a one-time cash injection of £400,000 which temporarily preserves the future of the Visitor Centre, but the financial implications of an appeal are weighty. If unsuccessful, it could cost the DNPA upwards of a further £250,000, on top of what has already been spent on legal fees.
Our argument when urging the DNPA to pursue the case was that the public support behind them was a powerful force in a further appeal, and the decision to begin the appeal process has been made in large part due to this assurance that funds can be raised to support the appeal.
Which is where you come in. Could you help us by donating to the #SaveDartmoor fundraiser? With your help, we can keeping support the DNPA as they fight the ruling through the Court of Appeals.
Support the backpack camping legal appeal!
You can donate to our JustGiving page here.
WHAT YOU ARE SAYING
"Backpack camping on Dartmoor is a magical, memorable exprience"
"Keep fighting on our and future generations the right to camp and leave no trace."
"I have never been to Dartmoor but am passionate about standing up for our freedom to roam and wild camp"
"Dartmoor is ours the Nation PLEASE SUPPORT"
"This is important."
"Best of luck, we need to win this for future generations. "
"DON'T LET THEM! TAKE AWAY OUR FREEDOM anymore."
"Good luck and power to the people"
"I really hope this works. I hope there is a clear decision made that will permanently support the right to roam. Lets hope this case on Dartmoor extends to all parklands over the whole country."
"excellent work, you are standing up for our rights and traditions"
"Good luck - access to Dartmoor for all."
"for all the unforgettable nights in my tiny tent on the moors, and in hope they'll continue far into the future"
"So glad this appeal is going ahead. Thank you!"
"This ruling must be challenged, for all sorts of reasons. I wish you success!"
"Right to wild camping is there since it has been assumed to be there and people have acted as if it is there... Good luck with the appeal. "
"Dartmoor was the nearest, proper wilderness when I lived and worked in London. Wild camping trips there were a wonderful, life affirming experience for me. Others must be allowed to experience it."
"As schoolkids in the 1950's we walked, holidayed and camped all over Dartmoor and I want that freedom to still be available to kids today and in the future."
"Preserve wild camping; preserve the soul."
"A glimmer of hope."
"Dartmoor, the most wonderful place on Earth. FOR ALL!"
"Thank you for fighting against this disastrous ruling on behalf of us all."
"In memory of happy times training for and completing ten tors for myself and my son Jonty"
"I hope that goodness and fairness will win this one - I know you'll do your best. Good luck! x"
We have now surpassed £100,000 in donations (including private contributions not included in our JustGiving total).
We would like to thank everybody who has contributed, in particular the following people who have helped raise a huge amount to support the appeal, often by leading targeted fundraisers and amplifying the campaign on their platforms:
Riverford Organic Farmers
The Stars are for Everyone
Fern Leigh Albert
Arwen Stickland Films
Ceri Rees Wild Running
The Fell Store