New byelaws for Dartmoor – what is changing?

Laura White
Laura White

The new set of byelaws for Dartmoor has been published by the Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) and the public are being asked for their opinion. On the face of it, not a whole lot is changing.

The language is being updated, and certain things that are commonplace now, which were not back in 1989, are being included. Draft proposals have been agreed that aim to ensure the byelaws are revised and updated to be:
• relevant and proportionate for modern society,
• clear and easy to understand,
• cover the right activities and areas, and
• complement other existing powers and legislation.

The byelaws have been in place since 1989; 32 years ago. In that time there have been legal, practical, technological and societal developments. The consultation runs for six weeks, closing on 1st November. After that, the Authority will meet again to consider responses and agree appropriate changes. The revised byelaws will then be advertised in the press for a further six weeks and, subject to any feedback, will then be sent to Defra for final confirmation.

This consultation will undoubtedly cause a stir, and many more voices than mine will need to be heard. Over the next few issues, The Moorlander will be looking at these changes and hearing from the public, experts and professionals as to what their thoughts are.

At first glance, this seems to me to be a list of things that people should already be doing, or not doing. But after the behaviour of some visitors to our beautiful moor last year, clearly some things need spelling out. And it must surely be the events of last summer that have brought about this need for change. The terrible sight of Bellever woods and the probably unintentional damage to Wistman’s Wood have given rise to additions to the existing byelaws, most of which are welcome.

The original byelaw for fires reads – No person shall light a fire on the access land, or place or throw or let fall a lighted match or any other thing so as to be likely to cause a fire. This byelaw shall not prevent the lighting or use in such a manner as not to cause danger of or damage by fire of a properly constructed camping stove or cooker.

The updated one now includes barbecues – (iii) The use of barbecues, including disposable barbecues whether manufactured as such or otherwise, is not permitted anywhere on the Access Land if it is used in such a manner as to cause fire, damage or harm to the land or vegetation or when the Fire Severity Index reaches High or at other such times when directed by signs. (iv) No person shall gather any material from the Access Land to use as fuel for any fire. (v) No person shall launch either Chinese Lanterns, fireworks or flares from the Access Land.

A fair addition, I believe, and some would have DNPA go further and ban barbecues altogether; do campers carry bricks in their rucksacks to put their barbecues on so as not to burn the ground?

Another welcome addition under the heading: Damage to land states – No person on the Access Land shall without reasonable excuse or lawful authority: (iii) remove from, displace or damage on the Access Land any vegetation, wood, soil, peat, dung or stones. Quite right too. Although why anyone would want to remove dung, I don’t know. Surely having this byelaw is better than not letting people on to a site at all, as was the case with Wistman’s Wood.

Another issue which occurred last year, and happens every year when the first snow falls, is inconsiderate parking. Cars parked for miles, both sides of the road, can block gateways and access for emergency or larger vehicles.

The old byelaw for this didn’t really have any teeth – No person shall without reasonable excuse park or knowingly cause to remain on the access land a caravan or trailer unattached to a towing vehicle, except on any area which is set apart and indicated by notice as a place where the parking of such caravans or trailers is permitted.

Bellever forest Copyright Chris Saville

Not much mentioned about cars or campervans, there. The new one is much clearer, and sensible.
(i)The parking of a vehicle is not permitted on those verges where the Authority has erected signs indicating that parking off the highway at those points is prohibited. (ii) No person shall without reasonable excuse park or cause to remain on the Access Land a caravan or trailer attached or unattached to a towing vehicle, except on any area which is set apart and indicated by notice as a place where the parking of such caravans or trailers is permitted.

Here’s one which many have had issue with over the years, and I must say, in my opinion, I don’t think should be included. (iii) Between the hours of 9pm and 9am no person shall occupy or sleep in any mechanically propelled vehicle, caravan or trailer parked on Access Land. I really can’t see how this would be harmful, unless of course you end up with a whole convoy. Perhaps a number restriction might be a solution? We’ll come back to camping directly.

Now, this one is of high importance – (iv) No person shall park any mechanically propelled vehicle on Access Land in such a manner as to impede the flow of agricultural traffic or livestock, to block (in whole or part) gateways or cattlegrid side gate entrances that are not on the highway. Finally. Thank you.

One change that probably wasn’t borne from the events of last year is the control of dogs. Dog attacks on the moor are common, and wholly avoidable. The old wording included the phrase ‘shall as far as is reasonably practicable’, which is always a good one to use if you don’t really have much intention of sticking to something. Rangers could only ask dog owners to put their dog on a lead if ‘such restraint is reasonably necessary to prevent a nuisance or behaviour by the dog likely to cause annoyance or disturbance to any person … or the worrying or disturbance of any animal or bird’.

The new wording lays it out in no uncertain terms – (i) No person in charge of any dog shall permit any dog to disturb or worry any stock or wildlife or cause any nuisance or annoyance to any person on the Access Land. (ii) No person in charge of any dog shall cause or allow a dog to be exercised other than under close control and, if directed to do so by a Ranger, must keep any dog on a lead. (iii) Between 1 March and 31 July each year all dogs have to be kept on a short lead of no more than 2 metres in length (iv) No single person shall bring more than 6 dogs on to the Access Land at any one time. “Dog” shall exclude police dogs, search and rescue dogs, guide or assistance dogs and any dog that is working on the Access Land with the consent of the landowner. I’m glad that last point was clarified, I don’ think many farmers would be happy if they couldn’t use their dogs to round up livestock from the moor!

Protection of Wildlife has been extended – no intentionally or recklessly taking, killing, injuring or disturbing any wild animal, bird or fish, eggs or nests. Noise disturbance now includes the use of CD, DVD player, amplifier or smart speaker using an internet or mobile connection, or similar appliance. Not many smart speakers around in 1989! The flying of kites and model airplanes at a height or location that would disturb livestock is still prohibited, and this section now includes drones ‘unless authorised to do so by the owner of the land and the Authority’.

Rangers are to be given more powers, which again I feel is only right. They work tirelessly to maintain the moor, and currently having as much clout as a kitten must be rather frustrating. The additional part to this byelaw reads – No person shall on the Access Land: (iv) fail to follow an instruction by a Ranger or officer of the Authority acting within their authority.

The penalty to Any person who offends against any of these Byelaws shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine on level 2 on the Standard Scale and in the case of a continuing offence to a further fine for each day during which the offence continues after the said conviction.

Alison Kohler, Dartmoor National Park Authority’s Director for Conservation and Communities, said: “We’re seeking wide ranging views on revisions to the byelaws to ensure they are fit for purpose and can help protect the National Park for all to enjoy today and into the future.

‘We’d encourage people to consider the amended byelaws and provide feedback to help us understand why you might support or object to the proposals. This will help us with the decision-making process. We welcome responses from individuals and organisations locally and nationally.”

I believe most of the above is simple common courtesy and lays out in clear language what is expected of visitors to the moor. I’m sure some people will find fault with some of these additions and alterations, but the main furore will be over DNPA’s plans to limit wild camping.

As I understood it, the byelaw for wild camping already in place is that you can only bring what you can carry on your back, you can’t bring anything bigger than a two-man tent, and you can’t stay in one spot for longer than two nights. You also have to camp in certain areas where it is permitted, according to the map which can be found online.

However, the wording of this byelaw doesn’t actually say anything about the size of the tent or how much stuff you can have, it just says you must camp further than 100 metres away from any public road.

The updated version reads – No person shall camp on the Access Land other than in accordance with the provisions of this section. For the avoidance of doubt: (i) Camping is only permitted in single person bivouacs or in tents that sleep no more than 3 people and can be carried in a backpack and in groups of no more than 6 people; This byelaw does not apply to agreed expeditions who have written permission from the owner of the land and the Authority; (ii) No person shall erect or use any tent, hammock, tarpaulin or other temporary structure that requires support by cords or bands placed on trees. (iii) Camping is only permitted in the areas as detailed in the Camping Map which shall be (1) published on the Authority’s website and (2) available for inspection at the Dartmoor National Park visitor centres and at the headquarters of the Authority and (3) amended from time to time after approval by the National Park Authority at a public meeting; and (iv) No person shall camp in a tent for more than 2 consecutive nights at the same location.

However, the issue now is that DNPA want to change the Camping Map and remove some areas where camping is currently permitted. One comment on Facebook says: “I’m sure many of you will have camped on Dartmoor at one time or another. It’s the only place in England that you can legally wild camp without specific land owner’s permission. Fly campers have been causing havoc over the last couple of years, so the authority have implemented a knee jerk reaction and are changing the rules (removing 8% of permitted camping areas).

‘More concerning, they are also adding a point that allows them to amend the permitted camping area without public consultation (so they could close it all off!!).”

This point was also picked up on by John Bainbridge, who was chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association from 1996 to 2005. He also led the campaign for right to roam in Devon, which culminated in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.

John says in a letter: “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.

‘The DNPA’s attack on wild campers comes at a worrying time – the British Government is pushing through its policing bill, which could make criminals of anyone in other parts of the country who free roams or tries to put up a tent as they have done by tradition for generations.

‘The DNPA, no better than a local authority in reality, 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.

‘What is more, the restricted areas for camping already listed could be just the beginning of something far nastier. The park authority is giving itself the powers, under the new byelaws, to increase these areas at any time, without further consultation beyond holding ONE public meeting, which can be just a regular meeting of the DNPA to which the public might sit in the audience or be allowed to speak at their discretion.

‘… I appreciate the difficulties the DNPA and its rangers had during the pandemic. I share their horror at the bad behaviour of the few. But to make life more difficult for the vast and well-behaved majority is NOT the answer.

‘After all, bad campers of the sort we saw out during the pandemic will ignore the byelaws anyway. Only the well behaved will suffer.”

We will continue to look at how these proposed changes may affect those living, working or visiting the moor in following issues of The Moorlander.

If you would like to contribute your thoughts, please email me at
To register your opinion with DNPA, visit

In the construction of these byelaws “the Authority” means Dartmoor National Park Authority and “Access Land” shall be land:

(i) defined as “the commons” in Section 2 of the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985; and/or

(ii) defined as “access land” in Section 1(1) and Section 16 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000; and/or

(iii) land within the Dartmoor National Park to which the public has access by virtue of the Authority having an interest
in that land and which is more particularly identified in Schedule 1 to these byelaws.

Local Life