Car park closures. Protecting the environment or reducing access?

Countryside car parks.

What do they mean to you?

  • The starting point for your favourite walk?
  • A lovely picnic spot?
  • A place to launch your kayak?
  • A means of exploring?
  • The start of an adventure?
  • A scenic coffee stop?
  • A place to overnight in your van?
  • Somewhere to play music and relax?
  • A location for litter and fly tipping?

Quite possible all of the above but it’s the bottom three that are often given as reasons for closing car parks that have previously given so much pleasure. I can vouch for the issues near some of the closures but have also seen evidence that closures don’t always deal with the problems, they often transfer them somewhere else.

Somewhere that perhaps won’t affect a particular land owner.

Car park closures have significant impact

If Dartmoor National Park is anything to go by, car park closures are gathering pace. Locked gates and giant stones are appearing all over the place.

And they’re restricting our access to the few areas of England where we are allowed to freely wander.

We care about our access rights

The public outcry over the recent threats to backpack wild camping on Dartmoor has highlighted how much our access rights mean to us all. It has also shown just how fragile our right to roam really is. Against the background of an increased (since the pandemic) but unbalanced (by  income level) number of visits to green spaces, this makes no sense at all.

Surely reducing access to nature doesn’t make political sense either.

Please Mr Landowner can I camp here?

There is now nowhere in England where we can wild camp without asking (ourselves or through someone else) permission from the landowner.

This is in stark contrast to the situation in Scotland where the Scottish Outdoor Access Code allows us to access to enjoy activities such as backpack camping, climbing, cycling and horse riding on most land as long as we behave responsibly and respect the interests of others. If you want to know what this looks like in more detail, this practical guide to Scottish access for both land-users and land-managers offers a really good explanation.

We do however still have the right in England, under the CROW Act 2000 to access certain ‘open country’ areas of land no matter who owns the land.

But only if we can get to them in the first place. 

Restricting access to the outdoors

And that’s where car park closures come in. I’m sure you’ve noticed them near your favourite outdoor spaces. Those padlocked gates, those giant stones, those unfriendly signs. Put there to ostensibly prevent a few people from causing damage, they sadly also serve to make sure many of us can no longer access the places we used to enjoy.

The places that perhaps landowners would rather keep to themselves.

There’s no doubt in my mind that many car park closures have been undertaken by landowners at their wits end about how to limit damage and poor behaviour but this doesn’t change that fact that any such closure also limits access to people who are less mobile or confident.

Car park closures on Dartmoor

Let’s take Dartmoor as an example.

There are plenty of closed car parks on Dartmoor. All missed and often with no viable alternative. Harford Moor Gate would be a good example; I’ve enjoyed many a cup of tea at this lovely spot after a satisfying walk onto open moorland. You can’t see the car park symbol on the map below because it’s been removed but the car park is still there behind its firmly shut gate.

Harford Moor Gate car park used to give access within two kilometres (that’s about 40 minutes walking) to the Two Moors Way as well as a whole host of fascinating cairns, crosses and stone rows.

To get to the same area (let’s pick beautiful Spurrell’s Cross as a point) I now need to walk 5 kilometres from Ivybridge train station (there’s a car park there too) or 6.6 kilometres from Shipley Bridge car park (I’ve used routes recommended by the National Park Authority).

Wild camping on Dartmoor by train

That’s a further hour from Ivybridge and an hour and a half (with map and compass navigation) from Shipley Bridge. And that’s just getting there.

I can do that at the moment but I’m 55, have arthritis and am facing adding yet more locations to my lost places list.

Of course I could take my tent with me and camp.

That would give my knees a rest before my return trip but according to the recently revised Dartmoor wild camping map, I would now have to walk even further from Ivybridge to pitch my tent. There are no two ways about it.

Car park closures are a stealthy but effective way to restrict access.

How can we help retain and improve access to Dartmoor?

Apart from appealing to landowners, we can’t do much about car park closures (see who owns England) but there is still time to save our right to backpack or wild camp on Dartmoor because Dartmoor National Park Authority have taken the brave decision to seek permission to appeal the recent High Court decision, which took that right away.

The Dartmoor Preservation Association, who have worked since 1883 to protect Dartmoor, have undertaken to act as a focus for donations towards the enormous legal costs of this appeal. I have (as one half of Two Blondes Walking) worked closely with the Dartmoor Preservation Association in the past to set up their vital Moor Boots Scheme, which provides walking boots to youngsters in need of them.

In other words, I trust the Dartmoor Preservation Association to do the right thing with my money.

You can find the Dartmoor backpack camping Just Giving fundraising appeal here. Funds are growing every day but there’s still a long way to go.

And this is a fight worth fighting.

Lost places – the Dartmoor wild camping map



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