Saturday , May 18 2024

Bye Laws

Bye Laws

And when Moses came down from the mount Sinai, he held the two tables of the byelaws of Dartmoor.

Whilst in the throws of research I had cause to read the byelaws that apply to the Dartmoor National Park and was amazed at what is listed in them. Perceivably many visitors to Dartmoor will unwittingly break at least one of the laws if not several, I now know that unintentionally I have. Take the following theoretical scenario as an example –

Somebody arrived on Dartmoor late one night and decided to sleep in their car overnight. The following day they drove along the old military road and parked 46ft onto the moor. Then they walked across to Whitehorse Hill and on to Hew Down where they climbed the newtake wall and set up a camp site. That night they lit a fire for warmth and to cook on. The following day they wandered around Whitehorse Hill where they sited a letterbox (which is classed as litter) and then walked through Fernworthy where they found a clump of marsh violets and picked one. They returned to the campsite and again lit another fire for the night. The next day they met another walker who wanted a guide for the morning, the person agreed to do this for a small remuneration. That evening they returned to the campsite and once again lit a fire, a herd of ponies passed by and one of them was fed an apple. The next morning it was time to go home and so they broke camp and headed off back to the car. Unfortunately they forgot to pick up an empty bean can at the site, on the way back they found some interesting rock samples and picked them up. Having reached the car the person was met by a ranger who handed out a parcel of fines which totalled £7,000 for contravening the byelaws – easy done!

The modern day byelaws were made under section 90 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside act of 1949 and section 11 of the Dartmoor Commons act of 1985. These apply to all land defined as access land under section 2 of the Dartmoor Commons act and any land inside the Dartmoor National Park which has by special agreement, public access.

As with any statute, the byelaws are open to interpretation but generally it’s only a matter of common sense and respect of others which enables folk to comply with what’s set down. Here are a few of the more salient do’s and don’ts, of the byelaws some of which are surprising:


(1) “No person shall without reasonable excuse ride or drive a cycle, motor cycle, motor vehicle or any other mechanically propelled vehicle on any part of the access land where there is no right of way for that class of vehicle”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

(2) “The right to park a vehicle within 13.75 metres of the road contained in Section 34 Road Traffic Act 1988 shall not apply to those verges where the Authority has erected signs indicating that parking off the highway at those points is prohibited.

“In this byelaw: ‘cycle’ means bicycle, tricycle or a cycle having four or more wheels… ‘motorcycle’  means a mechanically propelled vehicle with fewer than four wheels and the weight of which unladen does not exceed 410 kilograms. “Motor vehicle” means a mechanically propelled vehicle not being an invalid carriage intended or adapted for use on roads”.

So basically anybody riding a bicycle over the open moor is doing so illegally which means those that insist on taking their mountain bikes wherever they fancy are liable to prosecution. It’s a pity that this is not enforced with more vigour than it is.


(1) “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 parking of such caravans or trailers is permitted”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

Repair of Vehicles.

(1) “No person shall clean, paint or carry out repairs on any vehicle parked on the access land except in the event of an accident, breakdown or other emergency”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

Why would anyone want to paint or repair a vehicle on the access land? The cleaning clause is understandable as there are cases where people drive their cars into shallow fords and then wash them.


(1) “No person shall knowingly use any vehicle, including a caravan or any structure other than a tent for the purpose of camping on the access land or land set out for the use of parking of vehicles…”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

(2)  “No person shall knowingly erect a tent on the access for the purpose of camping: in any area listed in schedule 2 to these byelaws; within 100 metres of any public road or in any enclosure”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

(3) “No person shall camp in a tent on the same site on the access land for more than two consecutive nights, except on any area which may be set apart and indicating by notice as a place where such camping is permitted”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

Drive across the moor early on a Saturday morning and you are guaranteed to see someone parked up and asleep in their car. The clause about not camping for more than two nights on the same site is certainly one that very few people are aware of.


(1) “No person shall knowingly cause or permit the flow of any watercourse, leat or drain on the access land to be obstructed or diverted or interfere with any sluicegate or similar apparatus on the access land”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

This means that the kids who build dams in the streams on a summer’s day are in fact breaking the law and are open to prosecution.


(1) “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”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

I wonder how many people have lit a barbeque or camp fire on the moor and contravened this byelaw – I know of one such person for sure.


(1) “Every person in charge of a dog on the access land shall as far as is reasonably practicable keep the dog under close control and restrain the dog from behaviour giving reasonable grounds for annoyance”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

(2) “Every person in charge of a dog on the access land, as far as is reasonably practicable, comply with a direction given by a ranger or other officer of the Authority to keep the dog on a lead”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

(3) “A direction under paragraph 2 above may only be given if such restraint is reasonably necessary to prevent a nuisance or behaviour by the dog likely to cause annoyance or disturbance to any person on the access land or the worrying or disturbance of any animal or bird”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

Maybe it would be better to just say that it is illegal for any person in charge of a dog to let it cause a nuisance or disturb any animal or bird and then enforce it with a vengeance. There is also an unwritten ‘moorlaw’ which says any farmer that sees a dog chasing or harassing any livestock can lawfully shoot the animal – and it has happened. There is no excuse whatsoever for any dog to chase sheep or ponies, at the end of the day it’s the owners fault if it does not the dogs. All such dogs should be kept permanently on a lead – Zeb is.

Feeding of Animals.

(1) “No person on the access land shall feed or permit to be fed any animal lawfully grazed upon the land”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

(2) “Notice of the effect of this byelaw shall be given by signs placed in such positions as the Authority may consider adequate to inform persons on the access land”.

This has to be the most blatantly ignored byelaw of all, sit in any car park and you will see people feeding the ponies, even worse are those that feed the animals on the roadside. Both situations attract the ponies into close proximity to moving vehicles and can lead to them getting hit or run over.


(1) ” No person shall ride, train or exercise racehorses on an area of access land where the Authority has given a direction to the owner, trainer or rider of those racehorses that that (sic) area is not to be used for that purpose”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

This, apart from being badly worded, has to be one of the strangest byelaws of the lot. Every equine has four legs and can gallop at speed, so why single out racehorses? In addition how would anybody know whether or not a particular horse is used for racing when it hasn’t got a jockey decked out in bright colours on its back?

Protection of Wildlife.

(1) “No person shall without lawful excuse or authority on the access land, kill, molest or intentionally disturb any animal or engage in hunting, shooting or fishing or the setting of traps or nets or the laying of snares”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

Firearms or Projectiles.

“No person shall:

(1) discharge on the access land without lawful authority any firearm, air weapon or crossbow; or

(2) Release any projectile or throw any missile on the access land to the danger of any other person or so as to give reasonable grounds for annoyance; or

(3) drive, chip or pitch a hard golfball on any area of the access land listed in Schedule 2 to these byelaws down to and including Plasterdown or on any other area of access land so as to give reasonable grounds for annoyance”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

However, in the past it has been perfectly acceptable for the military to blast the moor to pieces and leave unexploded ordnance scattered around the ranges. It would be highly likely that more people have been injured by unexploded shells etc than have been hurt by a golf ball.

Damage to Land.

(1) “No person on the access land shall without reasonable excuse:

a. climb any wall or fence on or enclosing the land; Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

b. remove or displace any barrier, railing, post or seat, or any part of any erection or ornament, or any implement provided for use in the laying out or maintenance of the access land”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

(2) “No person shall without reasonable excuse remove from or displace on the access land any soil, peat, dung or stones”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

Show me any Dartmoor walker that hasn’t climbed over a fence or wall and I’ll show you a liar. And remember that next time you take any dung home you have contravened a byelaw???

Metal Detectors.

(1) “No person shall on the access land use any device designed or adapted for detecting or locating any metal or mineral in the ground unless he is authorised to do so by the Authority”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

Does this mean that females are excluded from this byelaw?

Commercial Activities.

(1) “No person shall on the access land offer for sale or let to hire any commodity or article, or offer any service for reward unless he is authorised to do so in pursuance of an agreement with the Authority and the owner of the land”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine


(1) “No person shall take off from or land upon the access land in an aircraft, helicopter, hang-glider, or hot air balloon (except in an emergency) unless he is authorised to do so by the Authority”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

Another male-only byelaw.

Kites and Model Aircraft.

(1) ” No person shall fly a kite or model glider from the access land in such a manner as to give reasonable cause for annoyance to any other person or in such a manner as is likely to startle or disturb stock on the land”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

(2) “No person shall release any power-driven model aircraft for flight or control the flight of such an aircraft on or over the access land unless he is authorised to do so by the Authority”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

(3) “For the purpose of this byelaw “model aircraft” means an aircraft which weighs not more than 5 kilogram’s without its fuel or is for the time being exempted (as a model aircraft) from provisions of the Air Navigation Order and “power driven” means driven by the combustion of petrol vapour or other combustible vapour or other combustible substances or by one or more electric motors”.

Go up on Barn hill on a windy day and see the many kites zooming around or watch the Para gliders on Corn Ridge?


(1) “No person shall hold any show, concert, exhibition or other entertainment on the access land. Provided that this byelaw shall not apply to any show, concert, exhibition or other entertainment authorised by the Authority”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

Music and Radios.

(1) “No person shall play or operate or knowingly cause or permit to be played or operated any musical instrument, radio, television set, record or cassette player, amplifier or similar appliance in such a manner as to give reasonable cause for annoyance to another person on the access land”. Maximum Penalty – £500 fine

In addition to the above byelaws there are several offences that come under the general law that are applicable to any access land, namely:

Destroying or Damaging Property of Another.

“Without lawful excuse destroying or damaging any property belonging to another person with intent of recklessness”.

Maximum Penalty – 10 years imprisonment.

Driving Motor Vehicles on Footpaths and Bridleways.

“Driving a motor vehicle on such a highway without lawful authority”.

Maximum Penalty – £400 fine

Driving Motor Vehicles Elsewhere than on Roads.

Driving a motor vehicle without lawful authority onto or upon any common land, moorland or any land not forming part of a road unless the vehicle is being driven on land within fifteen yards of a road for the purposes only of parking or of saving life, extinguishing a fire or meeting any other like emergency”.

“Parking a heavy commercial vehicle wholly or partly on the verge of a road”.

Maximum Penalty – £400 fine


Throwing down or dropping or depositing litter in, into or from any place in the open air to which the public are entitled or permitted to have access and leaving anything which may lead to defacement of the place by litter”.

Maximum Penalty – £400 fine

Unauthorised Dumping.

“Abandoning on any land in the open air any motor vehicle or any other thing brought onto the land for the purpose of abandoning it there.”

Maximum Penalty – 3 months imprisonment and/or £1,000 fine.

Livestock Worrying.

“If any dog acts or chases livestock on agricultural land or is at large (not being on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep, the owner or person in charge of the dog may be fined in respect of the dog”.

Maximum Penalty – £400 fine

Metal Detectors.

“Using a metal detector in a protected place (the site site of a scheduled monument or an area of archaeological importance) without consent”.

Maximum Penalty – £400 fine

Protection of Wildlife.

“The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes detailed provision for the protection of various species of animals, birds and plants” – see HERE.

Maximum Penalty – £1,000 fine


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor


  1. Mountain Biking on the moor – It’s a pity that this is not enforced with more vigour than it is.

    Wow, what a grumpy person has written this!! No wonder nobody wants to visit Dartmoor!!

    • I think you’ll find plenty of people want to visit Dartmoor, just look up the latest numbers.

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