Thousands of hikers mobilize for bivouac and nature rights in England

“Nature is a human right!” Wearing a red hat, Anya Wilding put on her hiking boots to restore a “stolen” “fundamental” right: the right to bivouack on Dartmoor in southwest England.

Until mid-January, this national park, popular with walkers for its wild moors, was the only place in England where camping was not prohibited. Now you will need the “consent of the landowner” before pitching your tent there, the British justice was seized by a rich local owner.

The decision jumped camp enthusiasts. On Saturday, despite the cold, organizers said they had set a date for a protest march on Stall Moor, a large moor with moonscapes owned by Alexander Darwall, in the small village of Cornwood. for bivouac.

Anya Wilding, a 21-year-old photography student, said: “This is a basic right that was taken from us and I’m here today to take it back.” “It was the only place where it was legal, so it makes your teeth ache.”

He remembers with nostalgia the “magical” moment when he was last around and “woke up to this golden light shining red.”

– “Look at the stars” –

In England, whose land is almost entirely privatized, Englishmen are only allowed off-road on a small part of their land: 8% of countryside and 3% of waterways, according to official figures.

This “Right to Wander” (right to wander) has provided the public with access to certain private natural spaces since 2000, but it is very limited. You can’t do anything there, especially not camping, much less anywhere else.

Thousands of walkers protest against a bivouac ban in England on January 21, 2023 in Cornwood (AFP – ADRIAN DENNIS)

Within this restrictive legislation, Dartmoor was a “magnificent anomaly”, “Who owns England?” highlights AFP Guy Shrubsole, author of the book. details how a small elite of aristocrats, businessmen and corporations came to own the vast majority of England.

A special law for Dartmoor since 1985 guarantees the right to enjoy any “outdoor recreation” there. A unique phenomenon in England, the bivouac was fearlessly practiced there before the courts held that it was not a “rest”.

However, Alison Thomas, a 72-year-old pensioner who came to join the protest on Saturday, said “it’s a pleasure, an adventure, an exploration”.

Although she no longer goes camping – “at our age the bags are too heavy” – she wants her youngest to experience “the simple joy of looking at the stars”.

“We all need nature, and nature needs us,” says Guy Shrubsole, guiding hikers along the narrow path to the mountain.

“We are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction, we need to reconnect with nature, get to know it better and understand that not only the owners, but everyone should be its guardians.” walk around”.

This collective is campaigning for greater access to English nature, as is the case in Scotland or elsewhere in Europe, at the initiative of the gathering.

– No permission” –

After an hour-long walk to the “throat” to the sound of drums and cymbals, walkers of all ages call on “Old Crokern”, the “good spirit” of Dartmoor who, according to local legend, has already pushed away a greedy landlord. quit his job.

“Dartmoor is a magical place with many myths and legends,” says local resident Harriet White.

Marchers join thousands of people in Cornwood, England against a bivouac ban January 21, 2023 (AFP - Adrian DENNIS)
Marchers join thousands of people in Cornwood, England against a bivouac ban January 21, 2023 (AFP – Adrian DENNIS)

Before the English courts, Alexander Darwall argued that he wanted to ban bivouac because of the waste left by some campers, an argument swept by Harriet White.

“Everyone should be responsible, including the owners,” he believes, stressing that “overgrazing pheasants or raising pheasants (Mr. Darvall organizes hunting) is more dangerous than bivouacing.”

Like many travelers, he opposes an agreement between the national park and some landowners who are willing to allow camping in exchange for financial compensation paid by the national park.

“We deserve access, not permission.”

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