Public outcry grows as attempt to ban wildcamping on dartmoor reaches high court

Environmentalists, writers, scientists, students and activists unite to protest wealthy landowner’s attempt to overturn the right to wild-camp on Dartmoor

Hookney Tor, Dartmoor. Photo copyright © Anna Walls 2022

Author Robert Macfarlane backs new The Stars Are For Everyone campaign to uphold the public’s access to ‘the irreplaceable wonder of sleeping out under the stars’

Rallies are taking place in London (12th December) and on Dartmoor (11th December) to express fierce public opposition to an attempt to legally overturn the right to wild-camp in Dartmoor National Park. The rallies are organised by new independent campaign The Stars Are For Everyone which is backed by the Right to Roam campaign and the Campaign for National Parks.

The demonstrations are timed to coincide with a High Court ruling on the legal challenge brought by Alexander Darwall, a hedge fund manager and Dartmoor’s sixth largest landowner, against the National Park. Darwall, owner of the 4,000 acre Blachford estate on southern Dartmoor, is seeking to remove the public’s right to responsibly wild camp on sections of the moor, which has been permitted since 1985.

Photo copyright © Gillian Healey

Campaigners will gather outside the Royal Courts of Justice, where the case is being held, at noon on Monday 12th December; with a separate rally happening at Princetown, Dartmoor at 11am on Sunday 11th December. Those unable to attend either rally in person are encouraged to stage ‘solidarity wild camps’ and tag themselves on social media using #TheStarsAreForEveryone hashtag.

Dartmoor is the only national park in England where people have the legal right to camp. For decades, this right has allowed generations of children, young people and families, from local schools, charities and community groups to Duke of Edinburgh expeditions and the Ministry of Defence’s Ten Tors Challenge, to experience the outdoors and responsibly connect with nature.

Campaigners argue that the right to wild-camp is more crucial now than ever – citing the benefits it has for physical and mental health and in sparking environmental care.

Photo copyright © Gillian Healey

Writer and academic Robert Macfarlane, author of The Wild Places, The Lost Words and The Old Ways, has backed the campaign. His tweet asking for wild campers to share their memories, stories and photographs of their experiences of wild camping “to show what stands to be lost,” has collected hundreds of responses. “It's appalling that multi-millionaire land-owners are taking legal action to deny the public our long-established and much-beloved right to wild camp on areas of Dartmoor,” Macfarlane says.

“A night under Dartmoor’s skies has been a mind-opening, life-shaping experience for tens of thousands of people down the decades. At this moment of ecological crisis we've never needed these opportunities to connect deeply with nature more. Please join these rallies, or raise your voice in protest however you can, to help us stop this vital right being rescinded.”

Emma Linford, an outdoor education professional who has trained professional explorers for expeditions including the BBC’s Frozen Planet team, has led camps on Dartmoor for 20 years, escorting young people from marginalised communities on transformative wild-camp journeys, including carers, prison-leavers, and learning disabled groups with the likes of Duke of Edinburgh, Princes Trust and the Rotary Club young leaders programme. She says, “I’m often working with people whose freedom has been profoundly curtailed, whether from inner-city living, or because of the weight of caring responsibilities, access needs, poverty or lack of opportunity.

Photo copyright © Gillian Healey

“Many speak of being given ‘a new chance at life, and a feeling of belonging’ that they’ve never experienced before. In the UK, I can only offer these experiences legally in Scotland, and on Dartmoor. To take this right away, especially in such a magical environment as Dartmoor, would be a tragedy.”

There are 10 national parks in England, covering 10% of the country’s land area. While National Parks England, the body that represents all the parks, stresses how crucial public access to these spaces is in improving wellbeing and slowing biodiversity loss, wild-camping is illegal in all nine parks except Dartmoor, and in all the parks in Wales.

Dr Rose O'Neill, Chief Executive of the Campaign for National Parks, the charity which has campaigned for the protection and enhancement of national parks since 1936 and which is backing The Stars are for Everyone campaign, says "National Parks like Dartmoor have been protected for decades with the twin purposes of conserving wildlife and enabling public enjoyment. The right to camp on the moor is an important part of this.

"Now is the time when the Government should be providing National Park Authorities with the powers and the investment they desperately need to deliver those twin purposes. The National Parks are on their knees after a decade of damaging government cuts. We support the Dartmoor National Park Authority's position in this case and look to the Government to act to ensure every child has a right to a night under the stars."

Amy-Jane Beer of the Right to Roam campaign, which is also backing the Dartmoor campaign, says: “With nature connection in the UK at an all time low – the worst in Europe – the transformative experience of spending a night or several under open skies is more needed now more than ever.”

The Stars are for Everyone campaign is encouraging supporters to -

  • join the London rally at 12 noon at Royal Court of Justice on the 12th of December What3Words: ///each.grew.ritual Contact Lewis for media enquiries: 07825 160701
  • join the Dartmoor rally starting at 11am on Sunday 11th December at the Dartmoor National Park visitor centre car park in Princetown, Princetown car park PL20 6QF what3words: ///reserving.herds.frogs
  • wild camp in their local area over the weekend of the 10th/11th December and into the following week when the court case is to be heard. Share experiences and support using the hashtags #TheStarsAreForEveryone and #SaveDartmoor
  • share your experiences of wild camping and why it is a right worth defending on your own social channels under the hashtag #TheStarsAreForEveryone and or follow the campaign and tag us on Instagram at on Twitter @EveryonesStars or on Robert Macfarlane’s twitter thread.