An Open Letter to The Ramblers from John Bainbridge
I would be horrified if The Ramblers decided to support in any way the new bylaws proposed by the Dartmoor National Park Authority. The new bylaws would be one of the worst assaults on National Park purposes that I’ve seen in a long life of campaigning for access and the countryside.
To support the Dartmoor National Park Authority on the proposed bylaw changes would be just plain wrong!
I’ve been a member of the Ramblers Association for about fifty years. In that time I’ve held a number of area and group posts, fought for the Countryside and Rights of Way Act and many other RA objectives. More recently, I have campaigned for the RA’s brilliant Don’t Lose Your Way campaign – indeed you used quotes from me and my picture on your fundraising materials.
I’ve also spent fifty years campaigning for Dartmoor. In that time, I spent nine years as chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, many years as a Dartmoor representative of the Ramblers Association, been a council member of the Council (now Campaign) for National Parks, a committee member of The Two Moors Way Association and worked with the Dartmoor National Park Authority on the Dartmoor Action Group Committee. I spent many years as a Dartmoor guide and have written books and articles about the Moor.
So I think I can say I’m speaking with some experience that the proposed new Dartmoor bylaws are a step in the wrong direction.
They are a direct attack on everything we have campaigned for over the past half-century.
There are already bylaws to curb bad behaviour on Dartmoor. But, despite the problems with a small minority who misbehaved on the Moor during the pandemic, the Dartmoor National Park Authority didn’t bring a single prosecution.
So why should they need even more restrictive and draconian laws that the badly-behaved will disregard anyway? Laws that will mostly prey on responsible wild campers and other users of Dartmoor.
Unlike in Scotland, there is no legal right to camp in most of England and Wales. The only real exception to that is in the Dartmoor National Park, where wild camping (with certain minor restrictions) is allowed by law under the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985. The Commons Act also granted Dartmoor a legal Right to Roam, long before the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW) in 2001. The Ramblers Association supported the passage of both acts through Parliament.
So it would seem to be the case that, because a small minority misbehaved, the majority of responsible wild campers are to be punished. Rather like banning everyone from driving cars because a small minority drink and drive. It’s worth noting that anti social camping, litter and fires have been a problem across the UK during the pandemic – an unprecedented event where the government was actually begging people to get fresh air and exercise.
If the bylaws are passed, Dartmoor would be the only place in England where wild campers could actually be fined for pursuing their hobby. This is surely NOT what National Parks are supposed to be about.
The Dartmoor National Park Authority wants to exclude some of the best camping areas on Dartmoor. Some of them near to roads – where the less fit and abled – the least confident – might feel safer camping, not far from their cars.
The Dartmoor National Park Authority even wants to give itself the powers to extend the areas where wild camping is banned even further in future. At its own discretion and without any further public consultation? Should a National Park Authority be given that power?
And if they get away with this attack on a most important provision of the Dartmoor Commons Act, how long before they decide to look at that other important provision – the bit of the Act allowing a legal Right to Roam?
They even want to make it an offence under the new bylaws to “occupy” a parked vehicle between 9 at night and nine in the morning. Note the “occupy” in their wording. Not sleep. Occupy. So no more night walks, looking at the dawn or sunset, or star-gazing.
And if people want to sleep in their cars or vans on Dartmoor – people who might have travelled a long way – what is wrong with that? As with wild campers, prosecuting them would make Dartmoor unique. There is at present no national law that does quite the same thing. Ramblers often sleep in their vehicles. I’ve often done it.
Proposed bylaw changes even include this nonsense:
“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.”
This would directly hit larger rambling groups and effectively ban protest walks in the National Park. I’ve led Ramblers walks on Dartmoor myself where a couple of groups have come together and comprised over fifty people. I’ve organised protest walks against threats to Dartmoor for both The Ramblers and the Dartmoor Preservation Association where there have been well over that number.
And who would they prosecute if the proposed bylaw was breached? The 51st person, the walks leader or any organisation supporting them, such as The Ramblers or the Dartmoor Preservation Association?
The whole bylaw is unenforceable and absurd! I believe such a measure is contrary to Article 11 of the Human Rights Act, which protects peaceful Freedom of Assembly.
Other bylaws proposed make it harder to go walking with even a well-behaved dog in the National Park, or to fly a kite! If a ranger judges you to be a nuisance you could be prosecuted. Short of risking the cost of going to court you would have no easy right of appeal.
Is that what National Parks were created for?
With these proposed new bylaws, the Dartmoor National Park Authority is giving itself the powers to overturn the intentions of the British Parliament who democratically decreed that the Dartmoor Commons Act should include a Right to Roam and to allow wild camping.
I do trust that The Ramblers will not be complicit in such an undertaking? I do beg that you do not give them one jot of support.
Indeed, I hope that The Ramblers, in responding to these proposed changes to the Dartmoor bylaws, will act in line with the intentions of the campaigners and politicians who created National Parks, and throw aside draconian and knee-jerk reactions to temporary problems.
And not give a National Park Authority powers that contradict the very purposes of National Parks.
If you agree with me please Email The Ramblers at email@example.com asking that they reject the proposed new bylaws from the Dartmoor National Park Authority.