The Devon moorlands are the only national park to allow “backpack camping” in certain areas – where visitors carry their camping equipment as park of their walk and stay for a maximum of one or two nights – but a new consultation is set to review existing legislation and could restrict the activity even more.
A swell in “staycations” during the pandemic has attracted visitors to the park, with the arrival of prohibited campervans, fires, barbecues and piles of litter.
In July, visitors were asked to stay away from the historic and environmentally sensitive Wistman’s Wood after visitors were found to have lit campfires, hacked bark and branches from trees and left litter, including cans, contraceptives and lavatory paper, around the site.
And large gatherings near Bellever in summer 2020 led to the habitat being spoiled, according to rangers, with marshals reportedly spotting up to 50 firepits along the river bank.
In May 2020, Dartmoor National Park Authority chief executive Kevin Bishop urged visitors to act responsibly after park rangers suffered abuse when attempting to tackle the problem.
“People having barbecues and picnics and leaving their rubbish strewn over the moor is not acceptable and staying overnight in a tent or a camper van is still not allowed,” he said at the time.
“We’ve already asked people not to bring portable barbecues to Dartmoor because of the increased fire risk. Glass bottles and discarded cigarettes all pose a very real risk to the tinder-dry moor.
“These fires spread very quickly and are absolutely devastating to the Dartmoor communities and wildlife, including moorland birds which are nesting on the ground, and cattle and ponies,” he said.
Currently, visitors are only allowed to pitch tents in secluded spots away from roads and other people, in a designated area of the moor.
Existing bylaws that remain in place to protect the region’s wildlife, cultural heritage, archaeology and famous wild ponies that graze the commons are now 32 years old, and need updating “to better reflect modern needs, improve public understanding and address issues which have the potential to damage the National Park’s special qualities,” said the Dartmoor statement.
Alison Kohler, Dartmoor’s director of conservation and communities, said: “We are doing this to ensure the bylaws are fit for purpose and help protect the national park for all to enjoy today and tomorrow.
“Updating the bylaws is an important topic for everyone who cares about Dartmoor whether it is landowners, commoners, residents, businesses or visitors, and we recognise people will want to have a say.”
The public consultation will be open from 20 September for six weeks.