It is commonly thought that common land is owned by the population at large. This is not the case.
Common land is land owned by a person over which another person has certain rights. Such rights are known as “rights of common”. Most common land is privately owned.
Registration of commons and towns and village greens
Common land can be registered under the Commons Registration Act 1965 or the Commons Act 2006. The registers contain details of the common land, its owners and the rights of common held over the land.
The Commons Act 2006 places an obligation on “commons registration authorities” (i.e. county, district, London borough and county borough councils) to bring their registers of common land up to date. The Act also sets out criteria for the registration of town and village greens. This obligation does not, however, apply to the New Forest, Epping Forest or the Forest of Dean.
Rights of common
Rights of common may include the following:
- the right to graze livestock (this is known as a right of “herbage”);
- the right to take peat or turf (this is known as a right of “turbary”);
- the right to take wood, gorse or furze (this is known as a right of “estovers”);
- the right to take sand and gravel (this is known as a right of “marl”);
- the right to fish (this is known as a right of “piscary”);
- the right to allow pigs to eat acorns or beechmast (this is known as a right of “pannage” or a right of “mast”);
- a right of public access on foot (this right was granted by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and is commonly referred to as “the right to roam”).
In the past rights of common could be acquired by virtue of “prescription”. The Commons Act 2006, however, prevents the creation of any new rights of common by virtue of prescription. When the Act fully comes into force a right of common will only be able to be created if it is expressly granted to a person and if the land is not registered as a town or village green and the right is attached to the land.
Management of commons
The Commons Act 2006 allows commons to be managed more sustainably by landowners and commoners through commons councils. The Act gives powers to regulate grazing and other agricultural activities.
Protection of common land
Common land has always been protected. However, the Commons Act 2006 affords common land with better protection then previous legislation. The Act contains provisions relating to consent for works and fencing on common land. It also protects common land from being abused and protects against encroachment and unauthorised developments.