Backpack camping on Dartmoor under renewed threat, but campaigners are buoyed by support

all photos by Mark Hayhurst

And so it begins again. Despite the unanimous verdict of the High Court decision back in the summer, wealthy asset manager, Alexander Darwall, has elected to challenge that decision and ask the Supreme Court to make a final judgement as to whether the right to wild camp (leaving no trace) exists or not. On Sunday 19 January, a group of campaigners and defenders of rights to access nature convened once again in the village of Cornwood, almost a year to the day from the initial judgement that galvanised so many into action.

It could have been a dispiriting affair, especially, as access to the law in this case, as in so many others, appears to be determined as much by the depths of a rich protagonist’s pockets as the validity of the claim. Estimates of costs for Dartmoor National Park Authority to fight the case are put at £250,000, but this could well prove to be an underestimate. However, once again, Mr Darwall can expect to find himself in the unwitting role of recruiting sergeant for the right to roam cause.

A group of people responded to a call at short notice to reprise the demanding walk from Cornwood to Stall Moor that had been such a boost to the campaign back on January 21, 2023, when 3,000 people turned up to demonstrate their passionate support for the campaign.

Mark Hayhurst, outdoor education and special needs teacher, takes up the story:

“On hearing the disgraceful news that the right to backpack camp on Dartmoor is once again being contested by Alexander Darwall in the Supreme Court and almost one year ago since the first court hearing, we felt it was fitting to walk once again onto Stall Moor from the fantastic and welcoming community of Cornwood.

“Local people stopped to talk and shake our hands as we made our way via the Blatchford Estate [Darwall’s property] which stands some distance from the moor.

“It was a great group and a fantastic turnout and we chatted about the need for greater access to nature for all and future plans. We also reflected on just how much it means to so many people to be able to camp without restriction on Dartmoor.

“We all stood and watched in awe as, on the horizon, Ceri Rees ran up and down the moor to cover the equivalent of the height of Everest.

“Above all, we took strength from being on the moor, from the collective group and from the community with whom we chatted in the Cornwood Inn afterwards.

“I’ll tell you what! The two mile slog from Cornwood to the New Waste gate and access onto that part of the moor isn’t an easy one! The idea that people will be swarming up there with their barbecues is a ridiculous one.

“Caroline Lucas MP and Lewis Winks (The Stars are for Everyone) summed the situation up when they reacted to the news of this court challenge. Caroline said,

The renewed threat to camp on Dartmoor reinforces the urgent need for new statutory rights of access. The physical and mental health benefits of reconnecting with nature are overwhelming and shouldn’t be blocked by the whim of wealthy landowners.

Whilst Lewis explained:

“As ever, the right wild camp is emblematic of the fragility of our wider rights in the English countryside, and Darwall’s latest egregious move illustrates the need for greater protection for access to nature.”

“We were just beginning to enjoy that sense that Dartmoor had been restored to us, ” adds Mark. “Now we have to fight all over again – but we are buoyed up by the huge support for the community and we are all more determined than ever to fight for the unconditional access which should be the model right across the UK. not just in Scotland.”

Old Crockern – the spirit of Dartmoor, represented by a splendid creation of The Lost Giant Makers – will have to emerge once more to remind Mr Darwall that his pockets will be ripped out if he continues to use his wealth to get his selfish way.