Landmark Ruling: Court of Appeal Grants Right to Backpack Camping on Dartmoor's Common Land

Posted by Catherine Flitcroft on 31/07/2023
Photo: Matt Gibson, Getty Images via Canva Pro

The BMC welcomes the decision to overturn the controversial ruling that made camping illegal on Dartmoor without landowner permission.

The Court of Appeal has today overturned the high court ruling and resolved that there is a right to backpack (wild) camp on Dartmoor’s common land.

The legal dispute has centred on the interpretation of the Dartmoor Commons Act that regulates access to moorland, and whether wild camping counts as ‘open-air recreation’.  Following the controversial decision in the High Court which ruled in favour of a wealthy landowner and concluded that there was not “a right to wild camp without permission”, the Dartmoor National Park Association appealed.

The case returned to the Court of Appeal on 18 July 2023 and more evidence was presented with the Open Spaces Society being granted leave to intervene. The judge Sir Geoffrey Vos concluded: ‘In my judgment, on its true construction, section 10(1) of the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 confers on members of the public the right to rest or sleep on the Dartmoor commons, whether by day or night and whether in a tent or otherwise …’.

The BMC’s vision of wild camping is that people should have the freedom to choose where to camp, in a self-sufficient and environmentally and socially responsible manner. Following this judgment Dartmoor remains one of the only places in England where there is a right to backpack camping without the landowner’s permission.

Dr Catherine Flitcroft, BMC Access Policy Officer, said: "This is a landmark victory for public access. The Darwall's court case sparked a huge backlash and has thrown a much needed spotlight on wider access rights to all our green and blue spaces."

"With renewed political will and strong lobbying, I am optimistic this is just the beginning of new, responsible access rights so we can all benefit."

Along with other campaigning organisations such as the Right 2 Roam, the Stars Are for Everyone and the Campaign for National Parks, the BMC want to see more land open to respectful, responsible, legal wild camping. This means visitors will feel secure in their rights and will understand how important it is to behave responsibly and care for our natural environment. Land owners and managers will be assured that visitors are acting under clear best practice guidelines, as custodians of our remote and wild places. 


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Anonymous User
Very happy to read this!
Anonymous User
This is utterly fantastic news. Thank everyone so much who was involved in this appeal. A win for common sense and humanity.
Anonymous User
With this decision comes the responsibility to leave it as you found it. Landowners often do a far better job than the general public of preserving landscapes.
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