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We have published Finding Common Ground, the first-ever guide to how to recognise and take account of local-community interests in common land. The work was commissioned by Natural England, the government’s adviser on the natural environment. Read it here.
Says Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary (who wrote the report with Nicola Hodgson, its case officer): ‘Commons are unique. People value them for all sorts of reasons. There is no other type of land in which so much public interest is concentrated.
‘A staggering number and many thousands of hectares of commons are designated as national or international sites, for their wildlife, landscape or archaeological interest—and nearly all of them are available for public access by right. These designations bring with them targets and guidance on how to achieve them but, until now, there has been no guidance on how to evaluate and respect the community’s interests in commons. It’s all too easy to ignore those interests in the scramble for funding.
Plans for grazing, scrub-clearance and tree-felling can all meet opposition unless the community is involved in their making. Fencing is often controversial: it may be desirable to enable the common to be grazed, but it’s a physical and psychological barrier and can change the nature of the common. If these ideas are introduced without involving the community the common will be a battle ground, when it should be a place for peaceful enjoyment, where all interests co-exist harmoniously.
Our guide shows how to identify the people who care about a particular common and how to involve them in the plans for its future. You cannot rush this work, you must take time to understand why the community values its common and how to accommodate everybody’s wishes.’
Says Graham Bathe, Natural England’s Common Land Major Project Manager: ‘Common lands provide some of our finest assets. They occur in all parts of England, even within the hearts of towns. No one is ever far from a common. Nearly 90 per cent of commons have designations to protect their wildlife, archaeology or landscape. However, they can be equally valued at a purely local level, where they are treasured for quiet enjoyment, dog-walking, or simply as a place to escape and to enjoy scenery.
We need to ensure that the interests of local communities are always at the heart of decision making, when considering the future of commons. That is why I am so pleased to see this report by the Open Spaces Society, which will help enormously in ensuring that commons can continue to be enjoyed at all levels.’