The fury around the legal decision to remove the right to wild camp on Dartmoor, the last place in England where this legal protection exists, is about so much more than the opportunity to spend a night under the stars. In fact, speaking to people who live, work and perhaps in this case even more importantly, play on Dartmoor, most have never wild camped, nor are they planning too. Yet despite this, its hugely important to them that the opportunity is there and not just for them but for their children and their grandchildren. To me this speaks of wider issues; our relationship with the natural environment and the loss of hope for the future of our planet and of life on earth.
We are living at a time of great loss; and it is that loss that so many people are feeling. We are losing species by the day, literally seeing the next great mass-extinction, we are losing acres of important and protected habitats across the globe, every year we are losing the right to access and enjoy different parts of the natural world, and above all else we’re rapidly losing the potential of a future as the climate continues to crumble.
We are hugely fortunate to be the custodians of some incredible landscapes stretching from the Scottish Highlands to the South West of England, including a large area of Dartmoor. The subject of public access and enjoyment is therefore very real to Oxygen Conservation.
It is our belief that…
we can’t hope for people to appreciate, respect, cherish, and even love nature if they can’t experience it.
We were therefore delighted to see the areas of Dartmoor under our ownership being included in the land designated by the National Park as available for wild camping. As so many of our team have been inspired by this incredible place, wondering at the dark skies and the millions of stars above, we hope others find that same inspiration when visiting.
We are also environmentalists and recognise that everything we do has an impact, and as considerate and respectful as visitors might be, the very presence of people, especially in larger numbers has an impact. And this is the diametrically opposed challenge we face as responsible land owners and managers; increasing opportunities for public access whilst also protecting and improving that very environment. Like so many aspects of our relationship with the natural world, it is complicated and we don’t have all the answers but we do have some ideas and are committed to learning so much more, in each of the different landscapes where we are responsible.
1 – Make More of the Natural World Accessible
Much of the land across England, Scotland and Wales is privately held and completely inaccessible, in many ways it’s locked away with little known about its flora, fauna and fungi. Several of the Estates we’ve bought to date do not appear in historic environmental datasets because previous owners have said “Stay Out”. Our approach is different, we say you’re welcome. We aspire to work with local communities and visitors to understand, protect and improve these environments and in the process connect neighbouring landscapes to help Scale Conservation beyond our boundaries. This is a slow process, it is challenging in a lot of ways, but we’re listening, we’re open and we’re trying.
Part of this process will be to welcome more wild campers, and provide a wider range of visitor and ecotourism experiences across as much of our land as possible.
2 – Make Sensitive Areas Less Accessible
We are incredibly fortunate to be responsible for some of the most precious habitats including Atlantic rainforests, saltmarshes, historic hay meadows and some incredible rare and special species. The impact of every footstep in these habitats is significant, and as such they must be visited rarely, and delicately, and only when it is appropriate to do so (seasonality and weather conditions are especially important). They are not therefore suitable for public access, we recognise this is the compromise we must all make to give nature a chance if we want these habitats to have a future, and hopefully recover to the point that they can one day be visited and enjoyed again.
3 – Reach a Wider Audience
Recognising that these special places cannot be regularly accessed we are committed to finding new ways for them to be appreciated, in a more sustainable way. We are capturing data, imagery, video and audio of each of our sites with the intention of creating a digital copy. Our aim is to share so much more about these places and in the process reach a wider audience allowing these special places, spaces and species to be appreciated and enjoyed albeit in different ways.
4 – Have More Diverse Environmental Experiences
As well as making more of the natural world available to people, we need to provide more diverse environmental experiences. So many people are starved of access to nature, and many are too often drawn to few notable places. This is unsustainable and results in damage and degradation to the very environment people are so keen to explore and enjoy.
In the same way as we all need to reduce consumption, making more mindful choices about the resources we consume and the wider impact we have, we believe the same is true of engaging with the most precious environments. Instead we want to encourage people to step off the beaten track, and spread our collective footprint more widely rather than concentrating it. And that is why we’re committed to Scaling Conservation and in the coming years managing 250,000 acres of land across the UK for people and wildlife.
We have seen first hand how experiencing the incredible habitats we manage genuinely changes people. We’ve heard people’s breathing slow, and relax in the rainforest of Dartmoor, wonder at the dark skies of Perthshire, giggle childlike at the experience of stepping on a saturated peat bog in the Borders and be visibly moved while running their hands through the long grasses of a historic hay meadow in the Yorkshire Dales.
Every time we invite people to visit these places, we recognise the impact that this has both on the place and on the people, understanding one isn’t more important than the other but knowing that we must always try and find the right balance between the two.
We can’t hope for people to appreciate, respect, cherish, and even love nature if they can’t experience it. We hope that by making more land accessible to people, by protecting the most precious landscapes, by finding new and creative ways for a wider audience to appreciate these places in a more sustainable way, and by increasing the impact of visits when we do interact with the environment, we hope to create more advocates for the natural environment and in the process Scale Conservation.