Camping ban millionaire helped bankroll MP’s campaign

He who pays the piper…….! – Owl

A Devon MP whose General Election campaign was partly bankrolled by the landowner who won a controversial ban on wild camping on Dartmoor has said he won’t be drawn into the row. But South Devon MP Anthony Mangnall has pledged to lobby for more cash from the Government to promote the “extraordinary” countryside of Devon.

Guy Henderson www.devonlive.com

The official Parliamentary Register of Members’ Financial interests reveals that land owner and hedge fund manager Alexander Darwall gave £5,000 to the campaign fund that backed Mr Mangnall’s election to the Totnes seat in December 2019. Mr Mangnall points out the money went to the Totnes Conservative Association and not to him personally.

Mr Darwall is reported to have given substantial financial backing – to the tune of £90,000 – to the UK Independence Party and the ‘Leave’ Brexit campaign in the past. He is a millionaire who owns several large areas of land across the UK including the 4,000-acre Blachford Estate near Ivybridge on the southern fringes of Dartmoor, which offers pheasant shooting and deer stalking for well-heeled visitors.

Mr Darwall is in the headlines after he challenged the legal basis permitting wild camping on Dartmoor. He and wife Diana challenged the claim the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 permitted wild camping, saying the legislation only related to recreation “on the move”.

They questioned the legal foundation of the Dartmoor National Park Authority’s bylaws which permit responsible backpack camping – allowing, for example, hikers to pitch a tent, which they must transport on foot, for up to two nights. They argued that some wild campers on their land caused problems to livestock and the environment.

Tiverton High School Ten Tors 2022

Sir Julian Flaux, the Chancellor of the High Court, agreed and found the act did not give the public any right to make camp overnight on Dartmoor common land, and that this required the consent of the land owner. The judgment sent shockwaves through the countryside and cast doubts on the future of events like the Ten Tors Expedition and the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, which both involve young people camping out on the moors.

A statement on the Blachford Estate website explains: “We are grateful to the High Court for its thoroughness in clarifying the matter. We now hope to engage with the Dartmoor National Park Authority, so we can improve outcomes on the ground. Working together, we can improve conservation of the Dartmoor commons and improve the experience for those enjoying the Commons legitimately.

“Our intention was not to ban camping on Dartmoor, but to clarify the law on this matter. We have always wanted to work with the DNPA on this issue and the recent court ruling now affords us that opportunity. We are hoping to come to a mutually satisfactory arrangement in the near future.”

Mr Mangnall said he was “100% supportive” of the right to roam across national parks, and fully appreciated the benefits of outdoor exercise. He went on: “I have spent quite some time as the MP for Totnes working on how we can keep public footpaths up to scratch, and even more time working on how we can improve outdoor learning, including ensuring that people are able to make use of what is on their doorstep.

“Regarding the High Court’s decision about wild camping, I do not believe it is right for a MP to second guess legal experts, especially given the independence of the courts. However, it is clear the decision is a huge disappointment to many people, both locally and nationally.

“Please note, there is no question as to the public’s right to walk and ride on the commons, and everyone may continue to do so.

“Regarding the donation Mr Darwall gave to the Totnes Conservative Association, I should make it clear that this money did not go to me personally but to my association. That donation was given in late 2019 and no further donations have been made. This donation was in line with the rules set out by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

“Our countryside is of great importance and over the coming days, I will be working to see how we might be able to secure extra funding from central Government to attract more people to this extraordinary part of Devon.”

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