Standing up for Dartmoor wild camping rights

Wheatland Farm is about lovely holidays for everyone. We’re about sustainability, and setting a good green example – about showing how things can be different and better. We generally try not to be too political. But some issues need challenging, and the threat to wild camping rights on Dartmoor is one of them.

So we joined Sunday’s protest in Princetown. It’s a matter of principle. Access to Dartmoor’s wide open spaces and wilderness feel was a huge part of why we chose to live in Devon. We’ve been wild camping there for years, from when the children were too small to carry even a kiddy rucksack. We’ve always adhered to the ‘leave no trace’ ethos, we’ve always been far from the road, and we’ve nearly always bivvy’d rather than camped.

Now, Alexander Darwall, a hedge fund manager who owns the 1,619-hectare (4,000-acre) Blachford estate (southern Dartmoor) has taken wild camping rights to the high court, seeking to remove the right to camp without prior permission. His Blachford estate offers pheasant shoots, deerstalking and holiday rentals. His claim seems to be that the Dartmoor bylaws don’t actually enshrine wild camping. This has become a test case that several other large landowners are supporting. If the right to wild camp is lost here, it will soon be lost across Dartmoor. And Dartmoor is the only place in England where it’s still legally permitted – already with several stringent provisos.

Some of the arguments are that campers leave litter. But those wanting to wild camp in remote places are usually far more careful than day time walkers about what gets left behind. And ask permission? Wild camping on Dartmoor isn’t generally something you book weeks in advance. It’s something you do when you’ve checked the Devon weather forecast and found a good window. As a speaker at the protest said, it’s an age old trick of large landowners to cast the public as vandals and themselves as the only responsible caretakers of the countryside.

The speakers at the Princetown protest asked everyone to share what wild camping on Dartmoor means to them – so here’s our view.

When each child hit the age of 10 it was a summer holiday rite of passage to walk with one parent across the North moor with an overnight bivvy. It gave them a huge sense of achievement. And in secondary school they’ve both been part of the army-organised Ten Tors endurance event (walk to ten tors in 2 days, with no adult help other than check pointing, on a 35, 45 or 55 mile route). It’s transformative – usually the first time they’ve had to make their own choices about when to push on, when to give up, how to motivate their mates, how to work as a team, and how to persist with a fairly gruelling physical challenge.

But Ten Tors is just the start. This summer our 15 year old walked north to south across Dartmoor entirely on his own (though we checked up on him on the evening of the first day). And our older lad, who had the grit to do 55 miles round his own garden during lockdown, is now hugely into outdoor pursuits. We put a lot of that down to Dartmoor. And it should be there for everyone. For free. For ever. Without having to ask permission.