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The newly-formed Common Land Coalition of 16 diverse countryside bodies* has called on environment minister Richard Benyon urgently to implement the law to update England’s registers of common land. They have written to the minister, and a letter is published in The Times today (Saturday 27 October).
Common land is suffering because there is no definitive, up-to-date record of the land and rights. The Commons Act was passed with cross-party and cross-sectoral support in 2006 specifically to address this and other issues. Yet part 1 of the Act, which provides for updating the registers, has only been implemented in seven ‘pioneer’ areas (Blackburn with Darwen, Cornwall, Devon, Hereford, Hertfordshire, Kent and Lancashire), in October 2008. Ministers have recently announced the deferral of further implementation until at least 2016.
Common land is one of England’s finest assets. There are 7,000 commons in England covering nearly 400,000 hectares, an area roughly the size of Suffolk. They are nationally and internationally important for their wildlife, landscape and archaeology and virtually all the land is available for public access. Commons are the last remnants of unenclosed land from the medieval period and cover all types of landscape and habitat.
However, without an up-to-date record it is difficult for commons to benefit from proper management to protect their value for nature conservation and public access, and the livelihoods of those who depend on them as grazing land. There is a right to walk on nearly all the commons but if they are not recorded on the register that right may not be available to the public.
Explains Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary and one of the signatories to the letters: ‘The Open Spaces Society is keen for the registers to be reopened throughout England so that we can reclaim the lost commons and thereby secure the public’s rights to walk, and perhaps to ride, there. We believe there are many commons which were wrongly excluded from registration. Part 1 of the Commons Act enables us to win them back.
‘We are dismayed that parliament should pass such important and valuable legislation and then fail to implement it.
‘So together with organisations representing graziers, the commons registration authorities, landscape and access interests, we have called on the minister to reconsider his decision of deferral, and to implement part 1 of the Commons Act 2006 without further delay,’ says Kate.
* The members of the Common Land Coalition are: Julia Aglionby, Chairman, Foundation for Common Land; Kate Ashbrook, General Secretary, Open Spaces Society; John Thorley OBE FRAgS, Director, Pastoral Alliance; Helen Jackson, Chief Executive, Campaign for National Parks; Helen Gilbert, Chairman, Association of Commons Registration Authorities; Benedict Southworth, Chief Executive, Ramblers; Mark Weston, Director, British Horse Society; Robin Milton, Chairman, NFU Uplands Forum; Jan Darrall, Policy Officer, Friends of the Lake District; Howard Davies, CEO, National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty; John Waldon, South West Uplands Federation; Phil Stocker, CEO, National Sheep Association; Jeremy Moody, Secretary, Central Association of Agricultural Valuers; Ian Mercer, Chairman, Dartmoor Commoners’ Council; Dave Smith, Chairman, Federation of Cumbrian Commoners; Dave Turnbull, CEO, British Mountaineering Council.