Thousands attended protest against a proposed ban on wild camping on Dartmoor on 21 January. Photography by Fern Leigh Albert.

Dartmoor protest reawakens right to roam movement

People are being urged to write to MPs for support after historic turnout to protest a court win by a wealthy Dartmoor landowner reignites land access debate.

Campaigners are building on a historic turnout against a ruling that would ban wild camping on Dartmoor by asking MPs to dramatically expand public access to green space across the UK.  

People are being urged to sign and forward letters to their local MPs calling for them to support a new Right to Roam act to guarantee the right to wild camp and extend access.

Only eight per cent of the UK is currently accessible to the public under the Countryside & Rights of Way (CRoW) Act of 2000, something campaign group Right to Roam was set up to address.

The letter, which is available for download and printing, states that: “Responsible wild camping leaves no trace on the countryside – but it leaves a huge impression on everyone who experiences it.

“Access to nature is critical to our public health. Physical inactivity costs the NHS around £1bn per year, and wider society around £7.4bn per year. Passing a law to extend our right to roam in nature costs, in the context of these figures, next to nothing.”

Around 3,000 people attended the protest on Dartmoor last weekend, including journalist George Monbiot, after landowner and Alexander Darwall won a court case to overturn the right to wild camp on the moor, the only place in England and Wales it was permitted to do so.

It has sparked huge outrage and what has been described as “the rebirth of the right to roam movement” and the largest turnout since the mass trespasses across Kinder Scout, in the Peak District, in the 1930s.

Tweeting from the march, Monbiot said: “A massive turnout at the #DartmoorProtest. It’s the 21st Century’s Kinder Scout. The moment when we start to reclaim our place in the land.”

Journalist Lucy Siegle added her support on social media, writing: “Our moor, our tors. Thank you to everyone who went out to defend it this weekend.”

Writing in his weekly column, Devon farmer and founder of organic veg box company Riverford, Guy Singh-Watson, said: “The privatisation of shared public spaces, be they school playing fields, oceans, or national parks, tragically undermines the fabric of our society and takes us one step closer to breakdown.”

General secretary of the NGO Open Spaces Society, Kate Ashbrook, said the judgment on Dartmoor could have “a chilling effect on other open country” in England and Wales, and could generate a culture of “keep out’” notices.

“Never has it been more important for people to be able to wander freely and responsibly on open country, and to sleep under the stars, for their mental and physical health and wellbeing,” she added.

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  1. I support the right to roam, of course i do…..but we have to know the history. By IUCN rules our national parks are not National Parks, because they are not owned by the nation. I don’t want to get into argument about Muir, but he did set a precedent and what seems to happen is that a behaviouristic response to use by the public, particularly in the US, causes issues of use and associated damage. But I’m damned if I know why the Harford Moor gate carpark closure hasn’t caused some ruction, particularly as the arguments put forward by the owner seem somewhat nebulous and it is a bridleway over the moor. Chains won’t stop bikes..If I take the High Nibthwaite carpark closure on the east side of Coniston as an example, it’s bloody clear that when the Forestry Commission sold that and other ‘bits’ off that it became very much ‘an Englisman’s home is his castle’ scenario of this land is my land and you plebs can just bugger off.
    So it is an issue of land-ownership and, in the case of the just gone legal action, simply profit.
    The other issue, which I don’t see a lot of coverage about is the very distinct difference between wild-camping and fly-camping…and that was a result of international Covid lockdowns. The number of illegally pitched tents on Brown Howe (National Trust and well in the Park) on the west side of Coniston lead to all sorts of shit around the public toilets ( which , if I remember rightly, were closed). So where the park and Trust rangers? Well, i don’t think there were any Park ones left ‘cos they’d been made redundant…and the Trust ones? Well even now they are bloody hard to find, when you want one.
    Having said that, unless things have changed rapidly in the Lakes, no-one minded wild-camping as long as you were ‘above the wall’ – and that was too much for fly-campers.
    2 books….’The Book of Trespass’ (Nick Hayes) and ‘ A Sand County Almanac’ (Aldo Leopold)

    “The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying ‘This is mine’, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, “Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.” JJ Rousseau

  2. This is very sad to read people’s right to roam are being taken away. We live in a very scary world at the moment which is building high rise buildings, forcing humans into living in small buildings cramped buildings so that somebody else can make a huge profit margin and retire in Barbados out of the monstrosity’s which are being built and developed. The earth should work for everybody, and everybody has a right to roam peacefully and in harmony with nature. Enjoying natural settings is so good for the human soul and I’m very worried that the same people taking away human’s earthly freedoms are the same people who want to create destruction and slice open flesh and guts on an earth which is the only one we have in a huge universe of unreachable uninhabitable spaces. Who does the earth really belong to? And what are their intentions for it? I have read that 60billion pounds is being used to create a high speed rail line connecting cities- would this 60 billion not be better used to go into helping green up spaces and aligning them better with nature and human peace, It seems so unfair that people who are so disattached from the earth get to make all the decisions about what happens with it


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