Frequently Asked Questions: Commons

Q. What is common land?

Common land is land subject to the rights of other people to graze animals, collect wood etc, or is waste land of the manor.

Q. What makes common land different?

Common land is historical land, which has remained largely undisturbed through the centuries, a remnant of medieval times when people relied on commons for their survival. It is unique because it is where the owners of nearby properties have rights to graze animals, collect wood and bracken or dig peat for example. Those rights still exist, although are not exercised as they were in the past.

Q. How do I find out whether land is common land?

All common land is recorded on registers held by the county or unitary council, and these are open to the public.

Q. Is common land important for wildlife?

There are 1.3 million acres of common land in England and Wales, registered in over 9,000 separate units covering all types of landscape and habitat. A staggering 88 per cent of all commons in England have a national or international designation – for wildlife, landscape or archaeology.

Q. Is common land protected?

If anyone wants to erect a work on common land, they must apply for the consent of the Secretary of State for Environment in England or the Welsh Government (section 38 of the Commons Act 2006) in addition to any planning or other consent that is required. However, certain works are exempt from these procedures.

Q. Who owns common land?

All common land has an owner, whether it is a local authority, the National Trust or a private individual or individuals.

Q. What sort of land is common land?

Common land covers all types of landscape and habitat, from the moors of Dartmoor to the fells of the Lake District, the mountains of Snowdonia, the Surrey Heaths and the Norfolk coast. Wherever you live, you are not far from a common!

Q. What rights do the public have on common land?

The public has the right to walk on all commons where previously there was no legal access, under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. Some commons already had a right for the public before that act and those rights persist. For example, on many commons, there is a right to ride horses under section 193 of the Law of Property Act 1925.

Q. How does the Open Spaces Society protect commons?

The Open Spaces Society has a special role when it comes to protecting commons in England and Wales.

We are notified of all applications for works on, and exchanges of, common land and will express a view.

If a work has been erected without consent on your local common, the landowner, commoners or local authority may be able to take action and, under certain circumstances, the public can too.

If you wish to take action against an unlawful work on your common, you can contact the Open Spaces Society or consider joining us.