Dartmoor wild camping allowed again after campaigners' successful court appeal

Tent pitched on Dartmoor
Wild camping is once again allowed on Dartmoor (Image credit: Getty)

Wild camping is allowed again on Dartmoor in England after a successful court appeal.

Dartmoor National Park Authority, with the support of a number of groups and organisations, had appealed against a high court ruling in January that had outlawed practice.

Until then, it had been assumed that camping was permitted under the Dartmoor Commons Act since 1985. The act stated a right to “open-air recreation” if someone entered the common on foot or horseback.

In fact, it is the only place in England where wild camping was allowed without  permission from a landowner. (Note this is different for Scotland where wild camping is allowed thanks to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.)

Dartmoor landscape and pony

Campaigners win court appeal to allow wild camping in Dartmoor National Park (Image credit: Getty)

Court battle over Dartmoor wild camping

The crux of the battle for and against wild camping on Dartmoor was the use of language, and the definition of wild camping as an “open-air recreation” or “simply sleeping”.

Lawyers acting for landowner Alexander Darwall, who bought Blachford Estate on southern Dartmoor a decade ago, protested that when camping people are only sleeping and not enjoying a particular activity. 

On the other side of the case, Dartmoor National Park Authority and the Open Spaces Society suggested that backpack camping is an ancient tradition and popular pastime on Dartmoor and, as such, is most definitely open-air recreation.

Following a court of appeal debate, the judgment favoured the wild camping campaigners. 

One of the judges, Sir Geoffrey Vos, is reported as saying: “On it true construction, section 10 (1) of the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 confers on members of the public the right to rest or sleep on the Dartmoor commons, whether by day or night and whether in a tent or otherwise.”

Woman looks at map on Dartmoor

Backpackers can once again wild camp on Dartmoor (Image credit: Getty)

Wild camping campaign joy over court win

Kate Ashbrook, the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, said after the ruling: “This is an excellent outcome. We are relieved that the judges ruled unanimously and conclusively that open-air recreation includes backpack camping on the commons. We should like to see that right extended and we shall campaign with other organisations to achieve this.”

Lewis Winks of The Stars are for Everyone said: “A permission is not the same as a right – and today the court has seen sense and re-established people’s right to camp without needing permission in Dartmoor National Park.” 

Dartmoor Wild Camping Action Group said on social media: “We’ve only gone and done it. We’ve won the appeal. We want to sat thank you to everyone who has supported our campaign and all the groups, including Dartmoor Preservation Association and Right 2 Roam.” 

Fiona Russell
Outdoor writer

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favorite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing (both downhill and backcountry). Aside from her own adventures, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy getting outside and exploring, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.