In April 2023, Dartmoor National Park Authority were granted leave to appeal the controversial High Court ruling that found that visitors to Dartmoor do not have the right to wild camp (or backpack camp) overnight in the National Park without landowner consent.
Despite the National Park defending the public’s right to access the area for the purposes of ‘outdoor recreation’, which includes responsible wild camping, the Judge ruled in favour of the landowner believing that Section 10 of the Dartmoor Commons Act did not give the public this right.
The case will now return to the Court of Appeal on Tuesday 18th July and new evidence will be presented that supports the long tradition of the laws relating to common land and rights of public access. The Court of Appeal has granted leave to the Open Spaces Society to intervene in the case, in support of the Dartmoor National Park Authority. The outcome of this case is significant because it could affect camping rights beyond the Dartmoor commons.
BMC Position on Wild Camping
A wild camp, miles from anywhere, is one of the greatest outdoor experiences. It’s a great way to explore new places, connect with nature, experience beautiful landscapes, help reduce stress and improve your mental health.
The BMC’s vision of wild camping is that people should have the freedom to choose where to camp, in a self-sufficient, discreet and environmentally and socially responsible manner, in rural and remote places where visitors can move across the landscape as part of a journey or adventure, and know it’s acceptable to set up a temporary ‘wild’ camp.
Currently it’s hard to find these places in England and Wales. In some parts of Dartmoor, wild camping is legal. In other upland and mountain areas, wild camping is illegal but generally tolerated by land managers and rangers. Many people already wild camp discreetly in our hills and mountains, following a strict 'leave no trace' ethic.
In Wales, the BMC is already supporting the Outdoor Alliance Wales call for “trials of expanding the right to wild camp on Welsh Government owned land as a basis for informing a future of CROW” and we continue to encourage the Welsh Government to deliver on commitments to further access reform.
However, the lack of legal clarity around wild camping remains and is a barrier for many. Visitors don’t feel confident to try it and fear that they are more likely to be targeted or dealt with harshly by authorities and land managers if challenged. The lack of legal clarity can also make land management decisions more difficult for farmers and rangers, and makes it difficult for managers, user groups and individuals to communicate good practice in order to influence behaviour.
The BMC want to see more land open to respectful, responsible, legal wild camping. This means visitors will feel secure in their rights and will understand how important it is to behave responsibly and care for our natural environment. Land owners and managers will be assured that visitors are acting under clear best practice guidelines, as custodians of our remote and wild places.
The BMC is calling for:
Wild camping to be permitted on open access land across several different National Parks in England or Wales for a trial period of 12-months with a view to extending this to more areas.
Essential funding and resources to be made available for:
- National Parks, AONBs and land managers to support responsible wild camping rights during this trial period, e.g.; by expanding the Ranger Service and for necessary infrastructure like signage informing of rights and responsibilities
- The publication of a Responsible Wild Camping Code. This would be a code of conduct with clearly defined wild camping principles, examples of what these principles look like in practice, and a clear explanation of the need for certain exclusions with a focus on promoting stewardship and having a positive impact.
- Additional control measures or local restrictions (and ways to communicate these effectively) where these are required to protect sensitive areas or limit camping numbers in very popular areas.
- Educational campaigns and practical training to improve the public’s understanding and skills to be able to wild camp responsibly. This would include the BMC and its partner organisations, such as Mountain Training, increasing their provision of resources to equip people with the skills they need.