The Campaign to Defend Wild Camping on Dartmoor a Short History

By Jessica Broom

The Darwall case and the Campaign to ‘bring back’ Wild Camping

On Saturday 21st January 2023, over 3,000 people took part in a peaceful demonstration to protest against the outcome of a court case brought against Dartmoor National Park Authority by landowner Alexander Darwall, that would remove the right to wild camp on the moor. The protest was organised by Right to Roam and the Defend Wild Camping Action Group was set up in the days running up to that protest.

Over 3000 Gathered on Stall Moor to Protest the Right to Wild Camp
Over 3000 Gathered on Stall Moor to Protest the Right to Wild Camp

People from all walks of life, from young families to seasoned ramblers, from locals to those travelling hundreds of miles, gathered in the small village of Cornwood. They walked in solidarity two miles up onto Stall Moor, which forms part of the Darwalls’ estate, to bring awareness to land access rights and to raise ‘Old Crockern’, the guardian spirit of Dartmoor. Most participants started from and finished in Ivybridge which was an over 10 miles walk there and back.

The spirit of Old Crockern on the Cornwood right to wild camp protest Jan 21 2023
The spirit of Old Crockern on the Cornwood right to wild camp protest

Overview of the Darwall case

Alexander Darwall, a millionaire hedge fund manager, owns the 4,000-acre Blachford estate on southern Dartmoor (as well as a 16,000-acre estate in Scotland, where he has also brought in restrictions). Since buying this land 12 years ago he has limited public access by blocking off the car park (the New Waste car park was closed in 2014). Locals at the time launched a petition to appeal the closure of the car park, which has made it difficult to access the moor, with no success. Darwall offers pheasant shoots and deerstalking on the land and local residents have raised concerns about the ecological impact of these activities.

Dartmoor is the only National Park in England where wild camping is permitted without landowner consent (in the UK this is now only a protected right in Scotland). This recreational activity was seen as a right, upheld through the Dartmoor National Park Authority’s byelaws, and comes with conditions: that people taking part in wild or ‘backpack’ camping, spend just one or two nights under canvas, carry everything they need in a backpack and leave no trace. The Darwalls brought a case against the National Park, arguing that the right to wild camp on the moors on the moors, which has existed since 1985, never actually existed.

The group The Stars Are For Everyone, backed by the Right to Roam campaign and the Campaign for National Parks, organised protests, beginning with a gathering and walk out onto the moor at Princetown, Dartmoor, on 11th December. The following day there was another demonstration outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, where the case was being heard.

The Stars are For Everyone at Cornwood 21 Jan 2023
The Stars are For Everyone, at Cornwood protest

Darwall’s lawyers argued that camping was not ‘recreation’ based on the definition of the term drawn up almost half a century ago, but that the law allowed for activities such as walking and picnicking, as well as the shooting of animals, and they won.

Following the ruling, the demonstration on Stall Moor on 21st January attracted a huge number of people who were outraged at the decision to limit access, as well as the wider issue of the pervasive power of a wealthy elite and land ownership in the UK. The demonstration drew the attention of the national media and was cited as the largest protest of its kind in a generation. The site was reportedly left spotless, as honours the main principles of true wild camping, to ‘leave no trace’.

People have been taking action to share their support in different ways, by attending demonstrations, writing to their local Members of Parliament and signing a petition for the government to extend the Right to Roam, which has garnered over 35,000 signatures to date.

The issue of ‘Fly Camping’ as opposed to ‘Wild Camping’

Darwall cited concern over littering and pollution on his estate as one of the reasons for limiting access. Fly camping and responsible wild or ‘backpack camping’ are two entirely different things which have been widely misconstrued in the media.

There have been growing issues with damage caused by fly campers on the moor, in particular over the Pandemic period, which drew a lot of attention. The abuse of the land in some areas resulted in ‘closure’ of sites such as Bellever in 2020 to allow important regeneration of the area. There are wider issues, however, not just with fly camping but with litter left by some day-trippers which, in beauty spots such Spitchwick, seemingly become worse every year. There is, indeed, a real problem with a lack of education and resources to tackle the issue. This is something that the wild camping community are very much aware of, many of whom cite returning from the moor bringing back more than they took after picking up litter on their way home.

Sites such as Bellever are the easier-to-access areas that are not far from the road, unlike Darwell’s area of the moor, which is accessible only to the fit and able.  This ruling will do little to tackle the problems of littering and abuse of nature. In fact, it will serve to hinder the appreciation and education needed to embed the next generation with respect for the natural environment.

An interim agreement?

There have always been areas of the park that have been off-limits and that do not sit within the specified allowed area as set out on the wild camping map on Dartmoor National Park website.

The National Park has looked to reduce the permissive wild camping area previously as part of a review of the byelaws in November 2022 – launching a consultation which provoked a strong response from the public and interest groups. Any revision of the byelaws regarding camping was put on hold however, until the outcome of the legal challenge from the Darwells.

Following the court ruling and subsequent public outcry, Dartmoor National Park acted swiftly to negotiate a permissive access arrangement with the landowners. People will be allowed to camp in a smaller area of the park in exchange for a yet-to-be-decided fee paid from public funds. The Park Authority will be reaching out to organisations such as DEFRA and charities in order to find this extra money. The agreement could be withdrawn by landowners at any time and more than 123,500 acres are now off-limits to wild campers, a situation that is not acceptable to supporters of the campaign.

Working towards a more inclusive future

On 14th April Dartmoor National Park Authority voted unanimously to appeal the High Court ruling as there are grounds to do so and leave to appeal the judgement has been granted by the Court of Appeal.

The Dartmoor case has re-ignited the debate over land access and given momentum to the Right to Roam campaign which highlights the limitations citizens have in accessing and benefitting from our countryside – the majority of the population can now access only 8% of our country.

It is not just about securing freedoms within this one National Park but for these freedoms to be extended to our other National Parks. The campaign has drawn support from high profile writers, campaigners and celebrities such as George Monbiot, Ben Fogel and Robert Macfarlane. Many are speaking out about the positive societal impacts of extending the Right to Roam, such as for mental health and wellbeing as well as the educational benefits for our young people.

Support the Offical Fundraiser!

The shadow environment minister Alex Sobel has stated that Labour would extend the Right to Roam should they come into power, and that our National Parks should be open and accessible to all.

A fundraiser has been set up by the Dartmoor Preservation Association to assist the Dartmoor National Park Authority in raising £200,000 required to cover the legal costs of the appeal. Individuals have made great efforts to support the campaign but the fundraising and the wider campaign now needs to be escalated to continue raising awareness and help reach the challenging target. By May 2023 £50,000 has already been raised, click on the image below to find the fundraising page.

Support the DNPA Backpack Camping Appeal
Official Fundraiser

Dartmoor Wild Camping Campaign Posters

The Dartmoor Wild Camping Action Group is pleased to announce new posters and postcards to help raise the profile of the High Court Appeal fund as well as raising the related issues.

The posters are A4 in size and can be downloaded in PDF format. Please feel free to download and print to place in your car, house window or workplace. It would greatly help us to maintain the fundraising momentum and keep the issue in people’s minds.

If you have a customer facing business on or near Dartmoor and would like to place a poster and some postcards in there, please contact us (see below) and we can arrange getting them to you!

PDF Poster: Wild Camping on Dartmoor is under threat

Poster: Wildcamping on Dartmoor is under threat
Wild camping on Dartmoor is under threat

The postcard is A6 in size. The QR code links to the Dartmoor Preservation Association crowdfunding page to help finance the High Court Appeal. Please help distribute these posters and post cards.

Postcard: #SaveDartmoor - Wildcamping on Dartmoor is Under Threat
Postcard: #SaveDartmoor – Wild camping on Dartmoor is Under Threat

The postcard in closer detail.

Postcard: #SaveDartmoor with QR code linking to the High Court Appeal
Postcard: #SaveDartmoor with QR code linking to the High Court Appeal
Postcard (flipside): Wildcamping on Dartmoor is Under Threat
Postcard (flipside): Wild camping on Dartmoor is Under Threat

We would like to thank Moor Fitness and Nutrition who donated the initial funds to get these printed.

Crowd Funder Link

Please donate to the crowd funding appeal setup by the Dartmoor Preservation Association. At the time of writing (13/03/2023) the appeal has already passed £37,000 which is tremendous in just a few weeks. However, there is still a long way to go to get to the target of £200,000.

Save Dartmoor Backpack Camping – Appeal Fundraiser (Official)

Contact Dartmoor Wild Camping Action Group

Facebook Discussion group:

Facebook Campaign Information Page:


Wild Camping Buddies for Starry, Starry Fortnight


Dartmoor Wild Camping Action Group and The Stars are for Everyone present you a chance to wild camp under the stars (weather dependant) with some experienced camping buddies.

Please note: This is not an experience day or guided session. You are responsible for your own kit and safety, including that of all your group members (family or friends). A suggested kit list is provided below, but it’s a cold time of the year, in a wild spot, so please don’t go out of your own comfort zone. If the weather is bad, we the organisers hold the right to cancel the night or multiple nights.

Now that the safety information is out the way, what is this all about? The Stars are for Everyone and Right 2 Roam are launching their Starry, Starry Fortnight Campaign which encourages people to wild camp in the country’s National Parks. We have decided to put on a series of nights around the moors to encourage people to get out and wild camp during this half-term holiday. Members of our team will be out in various locations around the Moors on different nights and you are welcome to join us. You bring your kit, food and water and we will bring encouragement, knowledge and stories. The wilderness of Dartmoor will bring her beauty and (hopefully!) a clear starry night and we can make some great memories. Don’t forget to charge your phones and take loads of photos for social media with the hash tag #savedartmoor.

Don’t worry if you can’t stay overnight, you are more than welcome to come just to stargaze and socialise with us or turn up early in the morning to watch the sunrise.

This is a free event but if you would like to make a donation to the crowd funding for DNPA’s appeal that would be greatly appreciated.

Crowd Funder Link


The following information gives details for the various locations we are suggesting. Please let us know you are coming by responding to this events page. Car parking spots are suggestions only and beginning of the guided walk to camp. All locations have been picked because they have multiple car parks serving them and all campsites have grid references in case you want to make your own way there. If doing so make sure your experienced at Dartmoor navigation and can easily cover the distance planned.

Cullever Steps, Okehampton (18th Feb at 16:30)

Park at the Row Tor Car Park (SX596923) which is on past the Army Camp entrance, over the cattle grid and straight on up the hill. There is lots of parking on the right-hand side of the road at the top of the hill. Meeting at 16:30 to leave at 17:00.

It is an easy 10-15min walk to the campsite at Cullever Steps (SX606922) along a road and down a track. The track is a little uneven and rocky. For those not camping, we will lead a group back to the carpark, but those who do decide to camp, you can pitch your tent and enjoy the stargazing. There could be an opportunity to awake early and watch the sunrise for those who want to before we lead you back to the car park in the morning.

Sheepstor (23rd Feb at 16:00)

Park at the main Car Park for Burrator Reservoir (SX568689) for roughly 16:00 to leave at 16:30
The walk is medium sized over mixed terrain. It starts off through the woods on tracks, over a style and up a steep bit of moorland to the campsite (SX565682). If you are not camping, you are welcome to join us but this isn’t the best location if you’re not experienced at walking on the Moors in the dark and are no good at navigation. For those camping, pitch for the night and enjoy the evening. We will guide you back in the morning.

Hayne down/Bowerman’s nose (25th Feb at 16:00)

Park at the Hound Tor Car Park (sx739792) for roughly 16:00 to leave at 16:30
From the car park it is a medium walk along a metaled road (caution there are many deep potholes in the road to Hayne down) From the gated road entrance to the moor, take a right up to Hayne down. This is a 0.69km walk across moorland, the bridle way is shown on OS maps. At the summit (SX741803) there is ample space to wild camp. The area has incredible views on clear days, boasting views of some of Dartmoor’s most iconic Tors. And by night it offers one of the best views of unpolluted skies on Dartmoor. We will lead you back down in the morning. Anyone just coming for the evening will have to make your own way back to the car so plan accordingly, I don’t suggest you do this unless used to night time Dartmoor navigation. Make sure you have a torch.

Kit List

Items Guidance

  • Rucksack: With waterproof liner inside, Advised to be about 60-70L to be able to carry all the individual items.
  • Tent: Lightweight, small tent Big enough for your party, can be carried in/on your backpack, the spots are exposed so make sure they can take a bit of wind. Bivy bags can be used.

Clothing for 2 days

  • Base layer x 2: Wicking type material to remove perspiration.
  • Mid layer – shirt or synthetic sweatshirt or microfleece x 2. Made of substantial material with long sleeves. Not cotton or fashion hoodie (as they are not generally weather resistant!).
  • Insulation layer – Substantial fleece or softshell. Thick fleece or softshell material. Not a down jacket, unless you are experienced in keeping these dry.
  • Trousers x 2: To be wind resistant and ideally quick drying. Sports leggings/track suits/jogging trousers/jeans are not ideal for the moors weather.
  • Socks: Good quality warm walking socks. Highly recommend waterproof ones.
  • Boots giving ankle support: Worn in and in good condition

Waterproof/Poor weather gear

  • Waterproof jacket with hood: Robust and capable of keeping the wearer dry under very wet conditions.
  • Waterproof over trousers: Useful if these unzip or unbutton to allow they slip over boots.
  • Gaiters: Recommended to provide additional waterproofing to boots during walking.
  • Gloves: Made from technical/waterproof material NOT woollen ones (these get wet and cold).
  • Hat: Warm hat that covers ears.

Rations & Water

  • Food for camp: Meals: 1 x eve, 1 x breakfast. Hot or Cold (but hot is better for warmth!) Boil in the bag type are great and lightweight. Snacks as required. Warm drinks are also good.
  • Emergency rations: (high energy foodstuffs & hot drink) to cover extra night on moor in an emergency, clearly marked and in sealed bag.
  • Eating utensil & mug (plate if food is not boil in the bag). Recommend a plastic spork and plate/mug as they are robust and lightweight.
  • Matches/lighter and pack of toilet tissues Waterproofed.
  • Water: 2ltrs min for drinking and cooking. If platypus used, a robust 1 litre water bottle in addition to manage water sterilisation is needed.
  • Water sterilisation tablets (For 48 hrs & in date). Be aware of purification time with system used.

Stove for Cooking (no BBQs or open fires)

  • Trangia. Including gas or fuel in a bottle, depending on style.
  • Gas cooker. Including gas canister and saucepans.
  • Jetboil style. Including gas canister.

Sleeping Kit

  • Sleeping mat: Thermal insulated and body length carried in a waterproof bag.
  • Sleeping bag (in waterproof bag): Minimum 3 seasons and appropriate minimum lowest temperature for the time of year. You can add a sleeping bag liner for extra warmth!

Personal Survival Kit

  • Map: Ordnance Survey Map OL28 (Dartmoor) or appropriate for area.
  • Compass: Ensure you know how to use!
  • Whistle: All to be aware of distress/ response signals.
  • Survival Bag (orange plastic). All participants to be aware of how to use. DO NOT USE SILVER FOIL BLANKET as these won’t help in cases of hypothermia.
  • Personal First Aid kit Contents: handwash, blister kit, insect repellent, sun cream, pain relief tablets & personal medication as required.
  • Head Torch: Spare batteries for non-LED head torches.
  • Toilet Trowel: Lightweight, plastic is recommended.
  • Something to sit on: Either a folding chair, square of foam or a cheap tarp.

Positive Trace Policy

Leave only footprints and take only photos and memories-

Take only what you need and plan taking it home with you including a bag for rubbish.

Leave the place better than you found it-

Have a litter pick around your campsite, pick up any litter on the walk to the camp site and back to the car/transport. Then litter pick the car park, take all rubbish home and don’t fill bins if you don’t have to.

No Fires

No fires are allowed on the Moors, make sure you bring a camp stove, whether gas or liquid fuel, make sure you’re used to its operation and its fit for purpose. Make sure all fuel is stored correctly and all empty canisters are taken home.

Link to Starry, Starry Fortnight Campaign

Beyond Dartmoor: Right to Roam Meeting 1st February 2023

How we’ll win the right to roam

For those who are interested in the wider issues beyond Dartmoor, and about the Right to Roam campaign…
This is on Wednesday night and has speakers including author Robert Macfarlane, and Lewis Winks and Annie Dare (among the organisers of the recent protest, from The Stars are Everyone’s campaign) and hosted by Nadia Shaikh and Amy-Jane Beer from the Right to Roam campaign team.
Wednesday, 7pm online – ticket link in the comments