Thursday , February 29 2024
Home / Aspects Of Dartmoor / The Hated Landowner

The Hated Landowner

WHO IS POSSIBLY THE MOST HATED LANDOWNER IN BRITAIN TODAY? – In 2011 Alexander Darwall, a hedge fund manager of Devon Equity Management purchased the 4,000 acre Blatchford Estate on Dartmoor in 2001 which then made him Dartmoor’s sixth largest landowner. Along with Blatchford Estate Darwall also owns the 16,000 acre Sutherland Estate in Scotland which in 2016 he purchased for £5million. If you look on the Companies House website there is only one officer designated as having “significant control” on the business – his 21 year old daughter? The estate has several enterprises which include beef, sheep and deer farming, on their website they proudly proclaim that “Blatchford Farm is grateful for the support of the EAFRD in part funding the investment in new techniques technology for cattle handling and herd performance management.” The EAFRD is the European Agricultural Fund For Rural Development which basically means free money from Europe. Is it fair that a supposed multi-millionaire needs European funding and probably will be getting similar for his Scottish Estate? Other estate initiatives include a wood fuel enterprise, private shooting parties and opportunities and property development. His previous recorded donations give an insight to the man, he has donated £89,999 to the UKIP party along with other sums to the Anti EU Vote Leave Party. In 2019 Darwall contributed £5,000 to the local Conservative party on behalf of Anthony Magnall their MP for Totnes. 

On the 12th of December 2022 he was challenging the Dartmoor National Park Authority in The Royal Court of Justice with regards to their “Wild Camping” policy. At the time this gave anyone the right to camp on parts of Dartmoor without the owners permission. This right has been in existence since 1985 and makes Dartmoor the only National Park in Great Britain where this is possible. Over recent years wild camping has become very popular form many people and groups. For many months there has been contention that the gate (which he owns) at New Waste had been locked. Traditionally this was a popular parking space for walkers to gain access to Stall Moor and southern Dartmoor. By locking the gate it meant alternative parking was only available 2.58 kilometres away at Cornwood. This now meant a hike of 5.16 kilometres to get from and to the car on top of what distance was covered once on the moor.
In 2022 Darwall took things a stage further by challenging the Dartmoor National Park Authority if had the right to allow people to camp on his private land. “Darwall’s lawyers, in papers filed earlier this year, assert that the right of access granted by the Dartmoor Commons Act “does not include a right of wild camping”. They argue that “members of the public are not entitled … to pitch tents or otherwise occupy Stall Moor overnight … except with the claimant’s consent.” – The Guardian Newspaper, December 10th, 2022. Darwall has also bemoaned the fact that the growing numbers of campers on his land have left behind litter, human waste, and  lit fires which could have caused wildfires. According to him there have also been cases of anti-social behaviour, noise and people poaching fish. It is feared that if this challenge is successful then other landowners may follow suit which in effect would ban the wild camping on Dartmoor. Part of Darwall’s  plans for the estate are to hold paying sporting days shooting deer and pheasants. He is also stating that these events would be a safety hazard to any stray walkers or campers on such days. A campaign called ‘The Stars are For Everyone’ was quickly set up with the support of the ‘Right to Roam’ Campaign’ and the ‘Campaign for National Parks’. A well attended protest took place at Princetown’s High Moor Visitor’s Centre on Sunday the11th of December.  A further protest took place outside the actual Court hearing on Monday the 12th of December.

On Friday the 13th of January 2023 many of the national and local newspapers reported that a decision had been made at the High Court of Justice. – “The right to wild camp in England and Wales has been lost, after a wealthy landowner successfully brought a case against Dartmoor national park,, the last place it was possible without seeking permission. Sir Julian Flaux, the chancellor of the high court, ruled that Darwall’s lawyers were correct and that right did not exist across Dartmoor… “In my judgement, on the first issue set out, the claimants are entitled to the declaration they seek that, on its true construction, section 10 of the 1985 act does not confer on the public any right to pitch tents or otherwise make camp overnight on Dartmoor Commons. Any such camping requires the consent of the landowner.” The Guardian, Friday 13th January 2023. What you are about to read will probably lose me followers on this website. The above news has been plastered all over the various social media platforms yesterday. Howls of protest can be heard across the country along with various threats and warnings. I must admit that the term “wild camping” sends shivers down my spine. Many years ago numerous people would ‘camp’ on the moor, there was nothing wild about it, we just went ‘up the moor’. You would quietly wander out into the wilds, sometimes with a small tent or sometimes spend the night in a natural rock formation or small cave. As there were no social media platforms at the time the only people who got to know of the adventure were possibly your mates who you later met in the pub. If you were not out on the moor at night you simply got up early, walked where you wanted to and got back whenever. Today such adventures appear all over the internet either in photo or video form – why draw attention to it? Is it a matter of “whooh, look what I’ve done – wild camping!”

That is the old gits’ “it was better in my day” bit over and time to move into 2023. There is a great emphasis on mental health today which is an important factor. We have all gone through and still going through Covid in one form or another. Add to this the increased prices of fuel, energy, food, and numerous strikes and it’s no wonder we all need to look after our mental health. There can be no question that day or a couple of days spent on Dartmoor will ease all the trouble and strife and if it requires some camping then so be it. What incenses me most is that why should the ‘privileged class’ be allowed to dictate people’s simple pleasures simply because they have money and influence. Mr. Darwall who owns the 4,000 odd acres of the Blatchford Estate has both the finance and connections to dictate what happens on his land. This is indicative of what is common practice in this country today. However, just be mindful that such practices have been occurring on Dartmoor for millennia. At one time the Forest of Dartmoor was the domain of royalty who certainly laid down laws of what could and what could not happen on their land with regards to the common folk. In later times the rich and affluent began enclosing some of the common land on the moor. This certainly caused hardship for the commoners who lost grazing land and other rights. Another example was the loss of rights, grazing and access over vast stretches of the moor since the establishment of the Dartmoor military training areas and firing ranges. In recent times one landowner decided to restrict access to the land around Vixen Tor for no valid reason. Not that long ago it was decided to restrict access to the old military road. This had the effect of disallowing many people easy access to places such as Cranmere Pool. These are but a few of a myriad of restrictions placed on everyday people across time.

Thankfully, there are numerous people, authorities and groups who have and are standing up to the unfounded dictatorship of Mr. Darwall and those who follow in his footsteps. Dr. Kevin Bishop, Chief Executive of the Dartmoor National Park Authority commented that ” “We are really disappointed with the outcome but obviously respect the judgment. We will now consider our position carefully before deciding on whether to appeal, and on what grounds. We maintain that wild camping is an important form of open-air recreation and is a way to enjoy the special qualities of the National Park – for example the dark night skies, sense of wilderness and the tranquillity that can be derived from the commons of Dartmoor. Done properly, and with respect, it has little impact on the environment. We are keen to work with landowners and other stakeholders to see how we can sustain opportunities for people to wild camp on Dartmoor.”
Again the national press, the television and radio stations have all reported on the outcome. Numerous groups have began planning protests. One group under the banner of “Raise Old Crockern to Defend Dartmoor” is organising a mass meeting at the  Cornwood Inn and the 21st of January 2023. Their mission statement is “We are calling on the spirit of Old Crockern, the ancient protector of the moor, to oppose this decision. Old Crockern represents the values that sit within our campaign and those that embody Dartmoor: inclusivity, freedom, growth, relationship, and humanity. We call on the many generations of people who love Dartmoor; locals, visitors, campers, farmers, walkers, students, naturalists, land workers, fishers, climbers, swimmers, bikers, canoeists, stonewallers, hedge layers, spirits old and new, to join us in opposition.” People are invited to attend the vent with drums and other percussion instruments when it is hoped to invoke the old Pagan spirit of Dartmoor. Old Crockern was/is supposed to be the protector of Dartmoor and resides amongst the rocks of Crockern Tor. In a nutshell, a wealthy businessman purchased some land in the hope of improving it and making a fortune. One of his workmen met Old Crockern who told him to warn his master “that I know his mighty plans and that many such men have come to my land with the same intent but like them I promise him one thing, if he as much as scratches my back with a plough share, I’ll tear his pockets out.” The prophecy came true  as try as the might the farmer could not prosper. Every year he lost money and the more he reinvested the faster his money disappeared. Instead of draining the bogs it was his purse that drained dry until eventually he became physically, mentally, and financially broke.

There have been vast numbers of people venting their anger and sadness at the verdict. Here is but one post that epitomises people’s feelings. “Dartmoor is what I feel as my home. I grew up in it. I have a deep connection to it’s environment, landscape and the flora and fauna within it. It’s fuelled my need for adventure through exploring hidden gems, foraging, swimming, hiking and wild camping and more. It’s helped forge the person I am today. And that is why it’s absolutely abhorrent that a singular landowner can seek to strip wild camping rights for my children, other people & future generations. They are taking away opportunities for the next generation to connect with nature. I’m livid. I’ve been angry before about many injustices in the past, but this one is part of me, and I take it as such, an assault on my way of life. Not just my way of life, but this is an assault on the poor. Dartmoor may be the only place some people get to take a break from society and it’s stresses. It’s certainly that for me.” There have also been calls for a mass camping trespass on Stall Moor through the coming year. Some Dartmoor website owners have temporarily removed their pages in protest of the outrage. Having considered this option I have decided not to follow suit. To me this would again be allowing Darwall to restrict access to another Dartmoor resource which many people utilise on a regular basis. Many people have since communicated their displeasure the Anthony Magnall the Totnes MP whose response cannot hardly be described as sympathetic. According to the Guardian Newspaper on the 17th of January his reply was “MPs should not and do not comment on legal cases,” and further added “Regarding the high court’s decision about wild camping, I do not believe it is right for a member of parliament to second guess legal experts, especially given the independence of the courts. However, it is clear that the decision is a huge disappointment to many people, both locally and nationally, and I understand that Dartmoor National Park Authority is considering its next steps. Please note there is no question as to the public’s right to walk and ride on the commons, and everyone may continue to do so.” There have been some allegations that his reluctancy to comment possibly could  stem from the fact that Darwall contributed to his local party. Thankfully local Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs have been more vociferous in their comments. On Monday the 16th of January Jim McMohan, the shadow environment secretary highlighted the matter of the court ruling in parliament. He concurred with the numerous voices of protest by saying it was “seemingly putting the financial interest of one person above the fundamental access rights that have been provided for in this house.”

Shortly after the announcement of the verdict the Blatchford Estate published the following statement on their website – “Statement Regarding Wild Camping on Dartmoor: We are grateful to the High Court for its thoroughness in clarifying the matter. We now hope to engage with the Dartmoor National Park Authority, so that we can improve outcomes on the ground. Working together, we can improve conservation of the Dartmoor Commons and improve the experience for those enjoying the Commons legitimately. Our intention was not to ban camping on Dartmoor, but to clarify the law on this matter. We have always wanted to work with the Dartmoor National Park Authority on this issue and the recent Court ruling now affords us that opportunity. We are hoping to come to a mutually satisfactory arrangement in the near future.”

Will other landlords follow suit on their land – who knows? What I do know that much of Dartmoor is a vast remote land and policing such ruling will be virtually impossible and very expensive. Do you think other landowners or even Darwall come to that, are going to relish the thought of numerous time-consuming telephone or email conversations requesting permission to camp? The courts are already severely backlogged with impending cases and will the judicial system appreciate the added workload of extra trespass charges. Should the worse come all I can suggest is do what we used to do, go quietly into the night, and stop sharing your exploits on Facebook etc. After all it is firm evidence that could come back to bite you.

I have since 2011 authored an associated Legendary Dartmoor Facebook page which at best will get about 200 engagements, 54 likes, 10 comments and around 10 shares for a post. On the 15th of January 2023 at 16.56 pm. I posted a link to this page. As of the 18th of January 2023 at 07.52 am. that particular post has attracted the following stats which shows the amount displeasure, anger and interest in the Darwall farce. On top of this the Facebook page has gained over 100 new followers in this period. Incidentally, as can be seen on the top of this page, at present this particular webpage has received 2,767 views which again is extraordinary for any of my pages. 

On a footnote – should you wish to contact Blatchford Estate with regards to getting permission to camp on their land then the contact details are – blachfordfarm@btconnect.com or telephone 01752 87880. After all Mr. Darwall has spent a considerable amount of money in requesting such an action. I’m sure someone will be delighted to answer such requests – NOT!

Dartmoor’s  Darwall Disaster
Alexander Darwall, a man of dark deeds,
With a heart of stone, and soul full of greed.
He sought to claim the wilds of Dartmoor for his home,
And to keep others from camping quietly and alone.

His hedge fund was his driving force.
He’d stop at nothing in his relentless course.
To control the land and make it his own.
And the beauty of the moor would be forever less known.

But the people, they would not be swayed.
They fought against; their voices were raised.
For the wilds of Dartmoor were meant to be free,
And Alexander Darwall would not hold the key.

In the end need greed won the day,
The moor was now his to keep at bay.
A warning to all, of the consequences dire,
When power and greed become the only desire.
Ali Yarnold, 2023.

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

15 comments

  1. John Bainbridge

    Brilliant!

  2. The rise of appending ‘wild’ onto some activity and then sharing pictures of yourself on social media to look cool….
    Its been a notable trend, ruffling a few feathers no doubt.
    We did all just go camping and swimming at one time.

    • There is a difference between Wild Camping and Camping, not dissimilar to Wild Ponies and Ponies. Not sure if there is Wild Swimming 🤔 but there should be. There are those that prefer swimming in rivers and lakes, that reject lidos and indoor swimming baths.

  3. If you need to obtain permission to camp on his land but get no reply from the Blachford Estate, you could try his business email…
    Devon Equity Management.
    enquiries@devonem.com

  4. A an Exeter member of Operation Dartmoor in the 60’s, walking/camping on the moor most weekends and often since I’m 100% with the post:
    “Dartmoor is what I feel as my home. I grew up in it. I have a deep connection to it’s environment, landscape and the flora and fauna within it. It’s fuelled my need for adventure through exploring hidden gems, foraging, swimming, hiking and wild camping and more. It’s helped forge the person I am today. And that is why it’s absolutely abhorrent that a singular landowner can seek to strip wild camping rights for my children, other people & future generations.”

  5. This page is worth noting, hopefully the DOC and other land owners feel the same and we can go back to what we’ve enjoyed for decades.

    https://harfordmoor.org/about/camping/

    • Not decades but millenia. Freemen in Britain is an ancient dictat; and the most damage has been done to this ancient law in the recent global take-over by multi-national corporate tyranny; I suspect the Dartmoor case is linked to this global monopoly by the UN and its corporate rulers; using their Agenda’s to imprison the freedoms of common men. This is the real war now.

  6. A group of us from the stickle path and Okehampton conservation group will be attending the meeting in Cornwood.

    Clearly a ruling is a ruling but I hope that rather than just paying other landowners to allow Camping to continue that this right to camp will be fought as far as possible and I really hope that we can get wealthy Well-wishers who do not just think about money but think of the wide are good to support a legal challenge to this dreadful decision.

    Luckily I live on the north side of the mall where access is easy but I know that my walking colleague who lives in Cornwood says that access is now incredibly restricted and before this incident the estate had closed lots of parking opportunities near the Moore which have been used for many years.

    I find it extraordinary that wealthy men and women can move into an area and just feel they own something without a responsibility to the wider public and local communities. This particular landlord is at extreme odds with the old landlord in Cornwood who I know from many sources has always been extremely generous and helpful to to help people enjoy them all as much as possible

  7. Sadly the few who do not follow the country code have spoilt it for the majority. Camping alone on Dartmoor is exceedingly good for one’s sense of well being. Dartmoor is for all not just the rich few.

  8. Thank you for this excellent and illuminating article.
    We were all angered and dismayed when Dartmoor was invaded during covid by an influx of vans, trucks and other vehicles. The occupants set up camps adjacent to rivers and woodland. As a result, parts of the moor were desecrated by these vandals who lit fires, vandalised trees and left all forms of detritus behind them.
    These actions provided evidence to the likes of Darwall who, suitably armed, pursued his case in the High Court.
    I should like to stand up for so called Wild, or Rough Campers who would never ever cause damage, light fires or otherwise go against the spirit of the park byelaws. These back packers carry what they need, proceed on foot and afterwards take with them only memories. They are not to be confused with those who desecrated the moor during covid, but are being punished by landowners in respect of the damages for which they were not responsible. That is neither justice nor morally defenceable.

  9. Thank you for the article, it’s really good to know all of this. I wonder what happens if request is sought to camp? I know that isn’t the point, but is he allowing people to camp at all? Also, it’s a large area, how is he controlling this? And what is the penalty if caught camping? It all seems so ridiculous, I wonder why it’s an issue for him.

  10. Hi – there seems to be a misunderstanding here. All the Dartmoor landowners have signed up to this agreement.

    • Not quite as simple as that Shelagh as we’ve lost around 12000 acres access. And although the costs are quite small in the scheme of things it’s still more money going to the landowners.

      A national park should just be that.

  11. Hi LD, I emailed a reply yesterday about camping on Dartmoor,which on reflection might not look too good. So could you not post it please?
    Best of luck, the article you wrote is a great piece of writing, with good detail – keep up the good work, and here’s to many years of Dartmoor for everyone.

  12. Well researched and an excellent article Tim. I’m with those who say carry on as before. There was a suggestion a while back of establishing a ‘ Wild Camping Club’. God knows where that idiotic suggestion would lead. My advice is simple. Wander at will, leave no trace of your passing, if your canine companion has a taste for lamb or duck keep them on a lead, and above all else, please dont brag about your camping on the pages of Facebook. I’m not interested!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.