Following the High Court judgment in the case of Darwall vs Dartmoor National Park Authority, Members have agreed to:
• Seek permission to appeal the High Court judgment
• Endorse the new permissive system, agreed in principle with the Dartmoor Commons’ Owners Association
• Investigate which areas of common land owned by the Authority could be opened up to backpack camping
• Pause work on the byelaw review so the implications of High Court judgment can be fully considered.
Commenting after the meeting, Dartmoor National Park Authority Chief Executive Dr Kevin Bishop said: “We are grateful to the common landowners, including Mr and Mrs Darwall, who moved at speed to positively support the permissive system for backpack camping.
“The High Court judgment raises important issues of public interest that are central to the purpose of our National Parks. For this reason, the Authority has determined to seek permission to appeal the judgment.
“Our National Parks are largely owned by private individuals, and we respect their rights. However, our National Parks were designated by Parliament for their national importance. They have twin purposes: to protect and conserve and to provide opportunities for all parts of society to responsibly enjoy them.
“When the legislation to establish National Parks was introduced it was described as a people’s charter - a people’s charter for the open air, for the hikers and the ramblers, for everyone who lives to get out into the open air and enjoy the countryside. The High Court judgment potentially fetters that charter and seems contrary to the wishes of Parliament.
“Whilst we await determination of the application to appeal, and any subsequent appeal, we remain committed to working in partnership with landowners and other partners to ensure the new permissive system is successful.”
Backpack camping on Dartmoor commons
Within days of the High Court judgment, a permissive approach to backpack/wild camping was agreed in principle with the Dartmoor Commons Owners’ Association.
The new system enables people to continue backpack/wild camping on identified common land without needing to secure landowner permission first. It has also provided much-needed reassurance to the schools and young people preparing for Ten Tors/Duke of Edinburgh.
The report to today’s Authority meeting contained more details of how that system will work. It involves landowners entering into a legal agreement with DNPA with up to £300 paid annually to landowners who opt-in.
The fee acts as a ‘seal’ for the agreement. Landowners are able to retain the fee but several have already indicated that they may donate it back to the National Park via the Donate for Dartmoor fund. This is something the Authority welcomes because Donate for Dartmoor supports the vital conservation work that keeps Dartmoor special for everyone.
Areas where people can backpack/wild camp are publicly available on the National Park Authority’s website. People planning a backpack/wild camp should check the map before they head off and leave no trace of their visit.
Appealing the High Court judgment
Once the High Court has issued a decision there’s limited time to appeal which is why the Authority acted quickly and convened its meeting today.
First, the Authority appealed for permission directly to the Chancellor of the High Court. This application was declined on 13 January 2023.
The next step involves filing an appeal notice to the Court of Appeal. This has to be done by 3 February. The court will then decide to grant permission to appeal or refuse permission to appeal.
Because Authority Members were considering information relating to legal proceedings, local government laws allow for certain matters to be discussed privately. For this reason, the item was discussed in the ‘exempt information’ section of the meeting.
In reaching their decision, Members are aware of the resources and costs involved but agreed there was merit in the grounds for filing an appeal notice.
Dartmoor’s existing byelaws have been under review for some time with the Authority due to publish a revised set for public consultation. However, Members agreed that this work should be paused for the time being.