Dartmoor: Fifty-One Ramblers and You Could Be Fined

Take out a walking party on Dartmoor with more than fifty people and you could be fined by the over-officious Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA), thanks to its proposed revisions of the bylaws of the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985.

The proposals say that:

“No person shall on the Access Land participate or engage in any activity which comprises over 50 people on foot, or 30 horses or cyclists, unless he is authorised to do so in pursuance of an agreement with the Authority and the owner of the land.”

Now, I’m not a great fan of walking in large groups, but it does occasionally happen. I’ve led Ramblers walks where holidaymakers or an adjoining group have decided to join us. Not ideal, those numbers, but I’ve never sent anyone away.

The bylaw would also effectively ban protest marches and walks. I’ve organised several protest walks over the years for both the Ramblers Association and the Dartmoor Preservation Association. Walks around threatened areas of the National Park, so that we could explain just what the threats to the National Park are. More than fifty people have turned up on those.

If you need the permission of the landowner as well as the DNPA, then would it be given – particularly if the landowner in question might be a source or collaborator to that threat to the National Park?

Just fifteen landowners own the greatest proportion of the Dartmoor National Park. Mostly the bits of Dartmoor people want to walk on. So the DNPA’s deference towards these landowners, giving them the power to ban organised walks, demonstrates once again how the park authority is in thrall to the landowning minority rather than the vast majority for whom National Parks were created.

If you want to see how few landowners have the fate of Dartmoor and those who want to use it in their power, do visit Guy Shrubsole’s excellent site: https://whoownsengland.org/2021/03/22/who-owns-dartmoor/

And the restrictions on horses? Bet than won’t apply to the fox hunting brigade?

I can appreciate why the National Park want to do this. They are naturally concerned about erosion and wildlife. But would a party of fifty-plus, walking once on a route through an area actually bother wildlife or cause such erosion? I doubt it.

This, rather like their proposed silly restrictions on wild camping, is being done for the benefit of the few and not the many.I feel most sorry for the National Park’s Rangers in all this. They are the poor suckers who are going to have to try to enforce unenforceable bylaws. The members of their park authority, sitting in comfort at their monthly meetings, are never going to be at the sharp end.

If the Dartmoor National Park Authority had a grain of sense, its members would go back to the drawing board.

By John Bainbridge

Rambler, hillwalker, stravaiger and trespasser, access campaigner. Novelist writing historical and period crime fiction.


  1. The mindset of at least some members of the National Park Authority themselves, and their deference to the whim of certain landowners, is perfectly evident by consideration of some examples of their recent action. It may be argued that this demonstrates not just biased and flawed thinking, but action taken beyond powers of the authority to take – a somewhat contemptuous disregard of UK legislation.

    The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, and amendment in the Environment Act 1995, gives two purposes that the National Park Authority might need reminding of as a statutory duty, ie; (1) “the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of Dartmoor National Park by the public”, and (2) “conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of Dartmoor National Park”.

    In recent times, NO CAMPING notices appeared at Foggintor near Princetown – an area where, according to the NPA own online camping map, wild-camping is lawfully permitted. An admission was made by the NPA that they knew of the signs and acknowledged that they were in place to appease the landowner. So much for the word of law then…

    In another similar example, signs were recently erected prohibiting the use of fires, BBQs, and camping stoves. There is very wide support indeed of a ‘no fires/no campfires’ prohibition on Dartmoor, and for good reason. There is also wide support for prohibition of BBQs, as their increased proliferation and use by inexperienced folk has been seen to cause moorland harm and wildfires. Some UK National Parks have recently banned their use as a consequence – but not Dartmoor NPA. The suggested prohibition of camping stoves however, again goes against the NPA’s own Byelaw that specifically permit use of such a stove whilst engaged in approved wild camping.

    Understandably, the Dartmoor wild-camping community regarded these actions as contradictory and quite rightly question the mindset , intent, and reason for all this both on grounds of common sense and statutory duty of the National Park Authority. Yes, Foggintor has seen use of fires/campfires by casual campers unaware of their prohibition, but what mindset brings erection of blanket ‘no camping’ signs that affect all including the innocent, rather than has NO FIRES/CAMPFIRES signs erected to advise the unknowing instead? A wish to appease a landowner does not, so far as I am aware, entitle anyone to disregard law. Nor do I see how any of this helps the public gain “understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of Dartmoor National Park” – it prevents it!

    Similarly, the prohibition of fires/campfires makes sense on conservation grounds and is widely supported. Many would gladly see that prohibition applied to BBQs given increasing evidence of their being the cause of wildfires and other moorland harm – and yet in their proposed Byelaw changes the NPA specifically permit their use whilst other NPAs are banning them! No wonder some folk question how that helps in ” conserving and enhancing natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage…”.

    There’s scrambled thinking and flawed action evident here, and questions need to be asked of and answered by those responsible for it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. But the point I am making is that the park are not using the existing bylaws so where’s the evidence that they will use the new ones except against the responsible campers. How many of the irresponsible did they actually prosecute last year


  3. I live in the same national park. I don’t recognise your ‘impression’ of the way things are. There has been a pandemic, the one single thing people were instructed to do was avoid other people and get fresh air and exercise.
    The immediate mindset of the DNPA was ‘get orf our land’ – but that’s the point, it’s our access land and OUR freedoms that are at risk. The park has done very little to use it’s existing powers, and the ones that they are proposing are the work of people with limited competence – a judicial review will bring this crashing down around their heads.

    Liked by 1 person

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