It’s long way away, but Dartmoor’s wild camping fight is a familiar one

Australian grey nomads are famously sensitive to any hint that their right to free camp in certain locations may be taken away from them, and similar battles are being fought elsewhere around the globe.

In the UK, for example, thousands of people have just been protesting in Dartmoor in England’s south-west over the loss of wild camping rights there.

The high court recently decided to outlaw the long-held custom of camping on the moor without asking the landowner’s permission.

Up until now, Dartmoor has been the only area of England and Wales where, under a local law, there had been an assumed right to wild camp without first getting the approval of the landowner.


While the Dartmoor National Park Authority has now struck a deal with landowners to pay them to let wild camping take place, many campers feel it still restricts access.

The protest, organised by the Right to Roam group, was attended by an estimated 2,000 people.

Protesters included a mixture of families, young people and older couples, and many told the BBC that wild camping brought them significant mental and physical benefits.

Julian Adams said he had spent large parts of his childhood wandering around Dartmoor.

“It seemed a free, wild space and it’s been taken away for the future generation,” he told the BBC. “That’s why I brought my kids up here to join the protest.”

However, the 15 landowners on the moor said they had seen the damaging impacts of wild camping, and things had to change.

Farmer Russell Ashford told the BBC that dozens of times a year he has to clean up after campers who do not treat the land with respect, including leaving behind human faeces.

“In terms of litter, there’s beer cans, bottles, syringes sometimes,” he said. “And there’s a risk to people, a risk to animals grazing and a risk to the environment.”

He said he hopes the new system will allow him to use the funding to put up better signage and monitor any damage.

While many of the protesters said they empathised with the landowners, they stressed that the problems were caused by only a very small fraction of campers. They said that 3.1 million people visited Dartmoor last year, and only 100 people got in trouble … and so ‘education over privatisation’ was the way forward.

But both the landowners and the protesters agree that funding for Dartmoor National Park Authority, which pays for rangers to manage the land, is tight.

The BBC reports that the UK Government currently provides £49m to National Park Authorities in the UK.

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson did not comment on the funding issue, but said they ‘welcome the ongoing efforts of the authority and the local landowners to reach a resolution’.

  • Do you think the poor behaviour of a small minority of campers means that free camping is under threat everywhere. Email us here to share your thoughts.


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