AS thousands of people marched onto Stall Moor to protest the recent high court ruling banning wild camping, a wide range of views and opinions could be heard, many of which were displayed on placards and banners popping up throughout the crowds.

(Julian Barnes)

Tanya Kovats and Alex Hartley are from Devon, near the Blackdown Hills. After using the moor for hiking and camping for decades, the couple were both worried about what the ruling would mean for future generations.

Tanya said: ‘We love to wild camp on Dartmoor, it’s always a very special, very meaningful experience and a good place to connect back to nature.

‘Our son did Ten Tors, and that meant so much to him and his friends to have that experience, it was really important to their growth. I think this will specifically hit young people and people that are new to camping.

‘But it’s not just the organised events, it’s for anyone. A night out under the stars is so good for your mental health, it gets everything in perspective, and helps you to understand where you belong on the planet. It’s really toxic that someone is using their wealth and power to take that away from people.’

Alex was also unimpressed with Dartmoor National Park Authority’s recent settlement with landowners. Alex said: ‘We’re not happy with the settlement at all. We don’t have any rights, instead, we get permission that could be taken away at any time.

‘Dartmoor National Park Authority was meant to represent us, but after this agreement, we’re not sure who is meant to be representing us, which is extremely worrying to me. After this ruling as well, I worry that landowners will rethink other permissions as well, such as climbing and riding.

‘The freedom of information act that people asked for found that there were only a handful of incidents in the whole of 2020. Littering is clearly an issue, but there are already laws that cover that, that was already against the law.’

Tanya added: ‘This also isn’t about permission, this is about the last part of England and Wales where this was a right. If it turns into something where you have to ask permission or pay, it will mean that so many people don’t do it.

‘Most people who come to Dartmoor come with respect, they connect to a wild place and do not mess it up. The people who do leave a trace will do that whatever the law, they are a tiny minority held up to punish a majority.’

Christopher Scala, a friend of Alex and Tanya, came all the way from London to show his support. For him, the issue ran deeper than just the right to camp. Christopher said: ’I am politically opposed to the widening income inequality and I really don’t like rich people, it’s very simple. I don’t like the way that they behave, I don’t like the way that they think that they can do whatever they want to do.’

Dartmoor rally
(Sophie Lovett)

Sophie Lovett, from Buckfastleigh, came up with her son Arthur.

Sophie said: ‘It’s so awesome to embrace the wintry beauty of the moor today with so many other folks who refuse to stand by whilst our rights to this land are stripped away.

‘The crowds were intimidating at first, and Arthur especially had to breathe deep into his strength to be able to participate, but we were all glad that we did.

‘At this time of social and ecological crisis, the two things we need access to above anything else are community and the natural world. We had both in abundance today, and it was a welcome reminder that we are not alone in this fight.

‘Grateful to everyone involved in making today happen, and everyone who stepped up to make their voices heard.’

(Julian Barnes)

Eddy Pearce travelled from Bridport. Running a photography project with various local mental health charities, Eddy hopes to explore the link between the outdoors and mental health through portraits.

‘Last year I did a photography project with a local mental health charity, which turned out to be a really amazing way to connect with people. Then it kind of got me thinking about a larger project.

'When I found out about this ruling here, I really felt that I had lost something. It’s that classic thing that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I thought that this event is a great opportunity to start the project.

‘Lots of people get very different things out of the outdoors, but there is a lot of science on how the outdoors affects our physiology. I think for most people it’s the sense of having a bit of freedom and what that can do for your mental health. I’m not at all surprised that there are this many people here.’

Dartmoor rally
Anne-Marie Alexander is a regular camper on the moor (Julian Barnes)

After moving away from Devon to Bristol for a number of years, Anne-Marie Alexander and her partner Ryan Biercewicz returned for their love of camping and the outdoors. They now live in Paignton.

Anne-Marie said: ‘We love camping and we love the outdoors. My parents took me camping on Dartmoor as a child, they used to teach me what the trees and birds were, so I’ve always been into the outdoors. When we went camping, it would be so nice just to sit there and listen to all the birds - when do you hear a cuckoo when you’re in the city? You just don’t.

‘I think it’s a really important experience, I’m looking forward to when we have children and, as my parents did for me, bring them out into the outdoors and teach them about the natural world.’

‘This one of those things that I took for granted, I didn’t even know that Dartmoor was privately owned as it was a national park. I just thought it was a place where people could come and enjoy, I didn't realise that different areas were owned by people.’

Ryan added: ‘I also assumed that DPNA had more clout, that they assumed management of the entire area. But now, I can see that’s not the case.

‘I’ve been camping since I was a kid. Even back then, it was an escape. We used to come up with family, and now it’s with mates, but we do it for the same reason. It’s frustrating because it sends the wrong message. It’s such a simple thing that’s so good for you and available to all at zero cost. I guess the worry is that it sets a precedent for further losses.’

Max Worthington Dugmore and Dan Gluckman (Julian Barnes)

Max Worthington Dugmore came from Lydford to display his opposition to the ruling. Max said: 'This ruling feels like an injustice, we're here to protect our rights because if we don't, we're going to get railroaded into our own homes for good.

'When everyone was trapped inside our houses during lockdown, many more people realised that nature is good for their mental health. Taking away or limiting the opportunity to spend a night under the stars seems the wrong direction.

'I do admit there are some bad apples, but there's bound to be. But nobody notices the majority of campers that pitch up, pack up and leave no trace.'

Dan Gluckman came from London to show his support. 'For me, the right to roam is absolutely critical,' said Dan, 'It's part of what being English is all about, having access and a connection to nature and the countryside.

'Too much of England is in private hands. A night camping on Dartmoor is an incredibly special thing, and to have that taken away is devastating.’

Dartmoor rally
Beca has led groups of young people hiking on the moor (Julian Barnes)

Beca Trebilcock is a teacher, hiker and one of the organisers of the event. Being an expedition leader for young people on the moor, Beca anticipated that the ruling would most affect those who have not yet stepped foot on the moor.

‘I'm mainly here fighting for future generations,’ said Beca, ‘I take young people up to the moors through Ten Tors. One of the main things that I'm concerned about is that camping is now permissive. Before, it was protected as a recreational activity by a bylaw, but now, landowners have to give permission.

‘But the problem is this is a short-term deal, we don't know how long this is going to last. At the moment, we've already lost 18% of the land that you could have camped on last week. How much more are we going to lose?

‘Eventually, competitions like Ten Tors, like DofE, competitions that are ingrained in the culture of the young people in the southwest, may no longer be able to happen.'

Have an opinion on the ruling, or a story of camping on the moor? Give us an email at: [email protected]