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Wild camping is exactly what it says on the tin - the activity of camping on land that is not used as a designated camping site. So, can I pitch up my tent at Dartmoor Commons without landowners' permission? Darwall v Dartmoor National Park Authority [2023] EWCA Civ 927 tells you more.

Wild camping is exactly what it says on the tin - the activity of camping on land that is not used as a designated camping site. 

So, does this mean you can just turn up to any green space and settle down under the stars for the night? Not quite. In most of the United Kingdom, wild camping requires the permission of the landowner. Without such permission, they are committing the civil wrong of trespass.  

The exceptions to this? Wild camping in Scotland and wild camping on the Dartmoor Commons.

But was this about to change? Well initially yes, when legal proceedings were brought by two Dartmoor landowners, Alexander Darwall and Diana Darwall (the Darwalls) who challenged the ability to wild camp on Dartmoor Commons without landowner's permission. The proceedings were defended by Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA). 

The case was heard in the High Court by Sir Julian Flaux, the Chancellor of the High Court (Chancellor) with the root of the dispute around the statutory construction of section 10(1) of the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985. In particular, the question is as to the proper meaning of the words “the public shall have a right of access to the commons on foot and on horseback for the purpose of open-air recreation”.

A key point of contention was whether "open-air recreation" included wild camping.

The Darwalls argued that sleeping was not a recreation, whether in a tent or otherwise. They further argued that the right of access conferred by section 10 was limited to recreations that could be achieved on foot and horseback. 
Conversely, DNPA argued that "open-air recreation" was intended to be interpreted widely to include wild camping. They contested that section 10(1) did not intend to limit the recreation only to activities on foot and horseback. 

The Chancellor ruled in favour of the Darwalls that the "right of access” in question was “the statutory formula which [was] being used to describe the right to roam on the [Dartmoor] Commons”. Accordingly, the Chancellor declared that section 10(1) did “not confer on the public any right to pitch tents or otherwise make camp overnight”. 

The DNPA challenged the High Court judgment, and the appeal was heard by three Court of Appeal judges on 18 July 2023.

The Court of Appeal allowed the DNPA's appeal. The judgment published on 31 July 2023 stated, "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".

So wild camping in the UK now, what has changed? Well, not a lot. Dartmoor Commons was previously an area where you could 'camp wild' without landowners' permissions and that remains. 

It must be remembered though this does not apply generally to other beauty spots. To avoid committing trespass, wild campers must therefore carry out research and get the necessary permissions before pitching up a tent for a night under the stars.

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