THE Labour Party says it will pass a right to roam act if it comes to power, after widespread outcry following the High Court judgment on wild camping on Dartmoor.
In the bill, which is being drawn up by the party, there could be a new law that would allow national parks to adopt the right to wild camp, as well as expanding public access to woodlands and waterways.
Jim McMahon, the shadow environment secretary, said the court decision earlier this month to overturn the long-held right in the national park – the only place in England and Wales the ability still existed – shows that there needs to be a rethink of land access.
Dr Jeff Pocock, Newton Abbot Constituency Labour Party vice-chair and media officer, said: ‘Many readers will be angered by the recent outcome of a High Court case, Darwall v Dartmoor National Park Authority , involving wild camping on Dartmoor. This anger stems from the eventual ruling against the park authority in the court case which concluded that after decades of not doing so, ‘the casual backpacker who wishes to wild camp requires permission from the landowner to do so”.
‘This outcome has provoked a strong local and national backlash, been headline news, and a 3,500-strong protest march held on 21st January just the beginning of attempts to have the ruling overturned. The park authority has on 27th January announced it is seeking permission to appeal.
‘Supporters of the ruling argue that wild camping creates litter, leads to vandalism, and landowners have to foot the bill for cleaning up. Camper BBQs are damaging and create a fire hazard and this all poses a threat to the moor’s unique environment and wildlife.
‘The landowners who took the park authority to the High Court, Alexander and Diana Darwall, have also agreed to allow wild camping on a smaller proportion of their land for a fee agreed with the park authority.
‘Readers should note that there is clear distance between the response of Labour and the Tories, underscoring Labour’s support historically for those seeking to secure access to common land and common usage.
‘Local Tories are completely silent on the matter of public access to Dartmoor, and apparently more concerned with trying to clamp down on long-cherished, basic freedoms, such as wild camping and the right to strike, than with securing such freedoms for future generations.
‘Nationally the Tory party is also very resistant to coming out and publicly supporting the long-held rights of visitors to Dartmoor to camp freely.
‘Labour MPs, however, have expressed total opposition to this curbing of our freedom to roam and enjoy natural habitats such as Dartmoor.
‘Shadow environment secretary, Jim McMahon, in particular, has been in talks with park execs and with campaigners, urging them to appeal, and promised that once elected Labour will extend the right to roam, and were appeals against the ruling to fail, Labour would enshrine the right to wild camp on Dartmoor into law.
‘As Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport Labour MP Luke Pollard, has said, being able to camp under the stars is an ancient right, one supported by many, and if the courts won’t act, parliament under Labour will.’