‘Wild camping ban on Dartmoor is a threat to us all’

Martin Shaw, Chair East Devon Alliance www.exmouthjournal.co.uk

The High Court ban on “wild camping” on Dartmoor is a threat to us all. A right enjoyed over many decades shouldn’t be abolished by the stroke of a judge’s pen. Like most people who visit the moor, the vast majority of campers act responsibly and respect the environment. Dartmoor is a national park, protected by law for the enjoyment of all, and the national park authority rightly defended the right to wild camp.

This case also involved an abuse of multimillionaire power. Hedge fund manager Alexander Darwall, who with his wife Diana brought the court case, purchased 4,000 acres of Dartmoor twelve years ago and organises pheasant shoots and deerstalking on them. Mr Darwell seems to think that having made millions from handling other people’s money, he can trample over the rights of the public to enjoy Devon’s most precious open space.

The compromise supported by the Totnes Tory MP Anthony Magnall (who accepted £5,000 from Mr Darwall), that wild camping will still be allowed where landowners opt in to a scheme administered by the park authority, involves a bureaucratic waste of public money and restricts where people can camp. This “stitch up”, as campaigner Guy Shrubhole, of campaign group Right to Roam calls it, is no substitute for the right to camp freely.

Richard Foord, our own Liberal Democrat MP, was on the ball, immediately tabling a motion in Parliament calling for a change in the law to protect this. Green MP Caroline Lucas followed this up with a private member’s bill. Echoing other campers’ comments, Richard said, “As a child, I wild camped on Dartmoor when training for the Ten Tors expedition and for the Duke of Edinburgh award. Without these experiences I would not have joined the army or trained to be a mountain leader.“

Yet Mr Darwell is not the only financier disrespecting our environment this month. Rishi Sunak, our near-billionaire prime minister, took an official plane from London to Leeds – a two-hour train journey – just for a photoshoot. 

Mr Sunak tells us he’s committed to stopping global heating, but actions speak louder than words. He then flew up North again to promote some of the successful bids for the “Levelling Up Fund”, while other ministers sped off to all the regions where bids had been approved. In East Devon, the bid for Exmouth, represented by Tory Simon Jupp, was approved, while that for Seaton and Axminster, in Richard Foord’s constituency, was rejected. As he commented, we have been taken for granted yet again.

The only silver lining that I can see – since the Tories have shamelessly used the Levelling Up money to boost their chances in marginal seats – is that it means that while they’re still hoping Simon Jupp can sneak back in the general election, they’ve written off their chances of unseating Richard, who is making a great impression as our district’s first non-conservative MP.

Unfortunately we’ll have to wait for the election, and our chance to pass judgement on this sorry excuse for a government, until 2024. But there is hope in 2023 – in May we elect our district councillors, and I can tell you that the excellent local coalition of the East Devon Alliance, Liberal Democrats and Greens is firing up to regain control. They have made a great start in reforming EDDC after 45 years of Tory misrule – including a real priority for climate action in all that the council does – and deserve to be re-elected.

The next month will see conversations in all wards about who will stand for the council. Some sitting councillors will stand down and many of the Tories deserve to be removed by the voters, so we are looking for fresh faces. If you think you could contribute to EDDC, do contact a sitting councillor or one of the parties in the coalition.

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