We awoke early to catch the sunrise - a welcome return of the sun after a frosty night under the stars.

Photo essay: Reclaiming our land

Photographer Fern Leigh Albert wild camped on Dartmoor to hear how a court case has reignited the movement for land access.

On a cold, crisp February afternoon, hikers gathered in a small carpark next to Hound Tor. A cardboard sign saying ‘Dartmoor Wild Camping Action Group’ pointed in the direction of Hayne Down. The majority didn’t know each other, but gathered for a common purpose: to raise awareness for the Save Dartmoor appeal and for greater access to land. Mark Hayhurst, an outdoor education teacher, helped organise rallies when the Darwalls went to court with the Dartmoor National Park. Since then, he’s continued to promote wild camping and the Save Dartmoor campaign.

Campaigner Rick Stewart at the camp out, which coincided with the 20th anniversary of the Land Reform Act in Scotland. Campaign group Right to Roam is currently asking the government to support an extended Right to Roam Act for England and Wales.

The Dartmoor Wild Camping Action Group was set up in response to the recent court case between hedge fund manager Alexander Darwall and the Dartmoor National Park. The group intend to use the camp outs to raise awareness for the upcoming appeal, but also to practice and promote ‘leave no trace’ principles.

Clockwise from above: Rebecca Trebilcock, a passionate outdoors spokesperson and wild camping campaigner; Dartmoor was the only place in England wild camping was legally permitted; A stunning murmuration of Golden Plover appeared; Campers were rewarded with an incredible starry night sky; Mark Beacham prepared breakfast in a frost-covered tent for him and Pipit the dog.
A stunning murmuration of Golden Plover; The night sky was full of stars; Dartmoor was the only place in England wild camping was legally permitted; Camper Mark Beacham and Pipit the dog; Rebecca Trebilcock helped organise the rally for Dartmoor camping in December.

That night also concluded the event ‘Starry Starry Fortnight’, set up by the campaign group The Stars Are For Everyone. People within England and Wales were encouraged to camp out in their national parks to raise awareness for land justice. Campaigners are pushing for wild camping to be legal in all national parks across the country.

Although living in Devon, this was the first time Mark Beacham and Pipit the dog had wild camped on Dartmoor. He found the Dartmoor Wild Camping Action Group online and decided it was a great way to meet like-minded people who are passionate about the outdoors. He says it was a catalyst for “something he’d wanted to do for some time”, and the group has also given him a wider understanding of local and national issues concerning land rights.

This photo essay was initially published in the spring-summer edition of Wicked Leeks magazine. You can read the digital edition online for free.


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