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Dartmoor Access: Love Dartmoor Love Access

Dartmoor and Access: Love Dartmoor Love Access

No to the proposed DNP restrictions on rights of access!

By Dave Parks author of Prehistoric Dartmoor Walks

The Dartmoor National Park is proposing a raft of regressive restrictions on rights of access to Dartmoor. The context in part is anti-social behaviour that occurred on the lifting of the first covid lock down. Dartmoor is the only place in England where there is a right to wild camp. The proposals are an attack on that right and on many other rights of the public to access. The DNP should be championing the right of access instead they are trying to restrict them. These proposals need to be defeated. This website will support the campaign to stop these restrictions and if they come into force this website will support defiance and civil disobedience against them. We need to fight this. The DNP needs to drop all of these proposals.

This is an early version of this article 11/10/21. It will be updated shortly to link to more campaigning information about this issue.

The Dancers Cairn Circle and Stall Moor (Upper Erme) Stone Row

Photo: The Dancers Cairn Circle and Stall Moor (Upper Erme) Stone Row

The Prehistoric Dartmoor Walks website was set up in 2011. For many years the website tried to list just the main prehistoric monuments on Dartmoor including the stone circles, stone rows and also the listings of ring cairns by Joe Turner. The theme initially was walks you could do and the archaeological sites you could see and how this could be done using public transport.

That was back in the days when there were 3 transmoor buses a day at the weekend during the summer. The core concept was struck a severe blow several years ago when the transmoor bus was axed. By that time, I had become more interested in the archaeology and less emphasis was placed on the original concept and the website became more focussed on database listings of all prehistoric sites on Dartmoor and merging and linking up the various public records.

A few years after I had initially incorporated the listings in Joe Turner's 1990 paper 'Ring cairns, Stone Cairns and related Monuments on Dartmoor' I befriended the veteran campaigner and author John Bainbridge (chief executive of DPA 1996-2005). Bainbridge told me how Turner was also a tireless campaigner for rights of access. Indeed, he played a large part in the establishment of the Two Moors Way.

Years were spent battling with landowners and bureaucrats to create the route we all know and love today. It is easy to forget that our access to the countryside was not given to us but hard fought for against vested interests who wanted to keep us out. It took mass protests in the 1930s to establish some of the rights of access we have today. The mass trespass of Kinder Scout by ramblers in 1932 is perhaps one of the best-known cases of the struggle to establish rights we enjoy today.

Richard Hansford Worth

Richard Hansford Worth

This year has seen the 70th anniversary of the death of Richard Hansford Worth, one of the most famous authors on Dartmoor. He is legendary for his contribution to our knowledge of Dartmoor generally and in particular it's archaeology. It has taken nearly a year on and off to do but I have scanned his now out of copyright articles and made them available.

Dartmoor Person: Richard Hansford Worth

There is one article that surprised me when I first came across it as it showed a side of R H Worth that I had been unaware of. He was a passionate campaigner for the right of access to Dartmoor. Dartmoor had been used by the military for a very long time and during the Second World War this use increased massively. Of course, the military wanted to hang on to as much of it as possible. There was a very short period of consultation with proposals to turn over huge swathes of the moor to the military.

Worth, R. Hansford, Dartmoor and the Services, T.D.A. Vol.79 pp.211-226 (1947)

This article was written on behalf of both the Devonshire Association and the Dartmoor Preservation Association (DPA). Whilst the current arrangements were from later tweaks it was the intervention of R H Worth that stopped the military from taking a much larger part of the moor and so protecting archaeological sites and protecting the right of access.

The role of the military on the moor has been a bone of contention ever since with campaigns by the DPA headed by Lady Sylvia Sayer who was the grand daughter of Robert Burnard. She was the Chair of the DPA between 1951 and 1973.

This year sees the anniversary of the founding of the Dartmoor National Park in 1951. The vision of something like a national park goes right back to the early writers and campaigners on Dartmoor. Just about all of the early "antiquary" writers on Dartmoor in the nineteenth century repeatedly talked about the existential danger posed to the prehistoric monuments.

The DPA was founded in 1883 and one of the founders was Robert Burnard who went on to be one of the most active members of the Dartmoor Exploration committee that carried out a huge campaign of excavations and restorations over ten years from 1894 onwards. There are many who criticise some of their restorations of stone circles and stone rows but they were very clear that if they were not restored, they would likely be robbed out as material for mending roads or building new take walls.

Dartmoor Preservation, The Western Antiquary; or Devon & Cornwall Notebook Vol.9 (1890) - Robert Burnard

Plundered Dartmoor, Dartmoor Preservation Association Publication No.11 (1896) - Robert Burnard (not yet online - maybe available through DPA)

It was not just the damage to archaeological sites that worried the early Dartmoor advocates it was also the encroachments by landowners, the land grabs, enclosures, and the infringement of the rights of the commoners and the general public which again related to rights of access. In 1901 another famous Dartmoor author, William Crossing, penned a report for the DPA. "Mr Crossing's Report: Being Mr Crossing's report as to damage to ancient monuments and encroachments on Dartmoor, 1901".

In even earlier times in the 1870s the Devonshire Association had a short-lived Committee on Dartmoor run by W F Collier. This concerned itself with the same issues and was perhaps the start of the campaign to make Dartmoor an area that would later become a national park. In 1896 the Devonshire Association published an article by Collier on a proposal to purchase Dartmoor for the public.

Collier, W. F., The Purchase of Dartmoor, T.D.A. Vol.28 pp.200-208 (1896)

This article starts: "Twenty years ago, in July, 1876, I read my first paper on Dartmoor to the Devonshire Association here at, Ashburton. It was in a great measure a protest against the inclosure which, in spite of the rights of the commoners, have been made by authority of the Duchy of Cornwall to a vast extent". Here we have a learned, scientific association publishing articles critical of the rich and powerful who were abusing Dartmoor against the interests of the commoners. "The Dartmoor Preservation Society, however; are decidedly of opinion that the only successful means of protecting Dartmoor as it ought to be protected, if we value our rights on it, is to purchase it for the use of the Devonshire public."

Of course, we are all so used to Dartmoor now being a national park but the year before the 1896 article Collier wrote to 104 "Alderman and councillors" associated with Devon County Council and he got just one reply which was negative. The others could not even be bothered to dignify the representative of the learned association with a reply. It is no different today when it comes to progressive demands, they are met with inertia, inaction and hostility. It is a mistake to think that gains from the past will remain with us today without a fight.

Collier, W. F., Dartmoor and the County Council of Devonshire, T.D.A. Vol.27 pp.213-221 (1895)

It is clear that those who cared about Dartmoor's archaeology had no choice but to campaign against vested interests to fight for preservation and demand right of access. It is impossible to look at the activity of all of the great explorers without these issues looming large.

Of course, today we have the Dartmoor National Park with most of it accessible to the public - except for during firing times in the firing ranges of Merrivale, Wilsworthy and Okehampton. Despite there being very many individual land owners much of Dartmoor is open access.

Who owns Dartmoor?

In 2020 we had the covid crisis with the most extreme lock down for public health reasons that we have ever seen in our lifetimes. This website prominently displayed a warning to stay at home on every single page throughout the first lock down. When the first lock down was lifted all hell broke out with littering and antisocial behaviour on Dartmoor and a plague of "free campers" behaving antisocially and destructively.

The DNP responded by banning wild camping at Bellever. In the circumstances I feel they had no choice as it had got totally out of hand. The problem is we now have a huge raft of proposed updated byelaws which are a major restriction on the rights of the public to access the moor. I will not go into the details here as that is not the purpose of this article but our rights of access have come about through big struggles and they are constantly at risk.

Even if the motives for the restrictions are good the outcome is a major reversal of our right to access. The DNP should be championing responsible access not curtailing access. The evidence already suggests that the extreme problems in 2020 are already over and that new restrictions are simply not needed.

These proposals need to be resisted and this website will make it itself available to campaigning against them. The whole lot should be abandoned and the approach of problem solving by restrictions should be replaced by education campaigns.

We need to engage the public to educate people about responsible use of Dartmoor. There are many thousands of visitors to Dartmoor and many of them could be persuaded to help spread the word. There are good reasons why you should not have camp fires - why you should not drop litter and so on.

New byelaws will not solve our problems - but if we can harness one of Dartmoor's greatest resources, the people who live and work and visit the area for the public good then we can manage these issues. I say Love Dartmoor, Love Access – we must fight these changes.

Further Reading

The above article deliberately does not go into the details of the changes as these are outlined already by proponents and opponents of the proposals. I wanted to keep to the historic background because it is material I have been scanning and making public over the last year and it is another aspect to this issue. The following are some resources and articles related to this. The first two are from the Dartmoor National Park, the proposed changes and the reasons for them by Alison Kohler of the DNPA. The other articles are from opponents of the proposals. I urge those who love Dartmoor to read this material and discuss with others and make your feelings known. I would just add that the original proposals relating to wild camping included initially a proposal to ban wild-camping 1 kilometre from any road. This would have outlawed wild-camping on approximately 40% of Dartmoor where it is currently permitted with "leave no trace" offenders liable to a £500 fine. Understandably the wild-camping community have felt this was criminalising them and not doing anything to tackle those who ignore byelaws anyway - targeting those who "leave no trace" for the misbehaviour of an anti-social minority. The initial draconian restrictions have been scaled back significantly with a new map of permitted areas with new restrictions. A cynic will be forgiven for suggesting that they realised the 1 km ban would have resulted in huge opposition so they had no choice but to scale it back – it could be sold as not as bad as originally threatened. Yet, they are giving themselves the powers to introduce new bans after one consultative public meeting. The proposals also include a ban on "occupying" a parked vehicle after 9 PM. So, if you want to park and star gaze you could find yourself potentially breaking a new byelaw. The DNPA should be championing access and using resources to educate the public on how to do so responsibly. No-one wants anti-social behaviour but regressive measures are not needed and simply won’t work. The last link is to a campaign group set up on Facebook to oppose the new byelaws. Please oppose these proposals wholesale – it is the wrong approach to the problems we face.

Byelaws Consultation
by Dartmoor National Park Authority

Why Dartmoor's Byelaws are Being Updated
by Alison Kohler - Dartmoor National Park

Why I'm Defending Dartmoor's Wild Campers
by John Bainbridge author and access campaigner

An Open Letter to The Ramblers Regarding the Dartmoor Bylaws
by John Bainbridge author and access campaigner

Dartmoor Bylaws – Another Open Letter to the Ramblers
by John Bainbridge author and access campaigner

Dartmoor campaigner urges outdoor fans to resist plans to restrict wild camping
by Bob Smith, Editor Grough

Facebook Dartmoor Access (group setup to oppose these measures)

Page last updated 12/10/21