We rescue part of ancient Knighton Heath, Dorset 

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We have welcomed a decision to see off a threat to Knighton Heath in Dorset. 

In 1957, parts of Winfrith and Knighton Heaths were compulsorily acquired by the government for use as an atomic energy establishment. A small part (one third of a hectare) of Knighton Heath, south of Gibraltar Cottage and not required for the project, was registered as common land under the Commons Registration Act 1965.[1] In June 2022, the owner of the majority of the part applied to Dorset Council to deregister it.[2] The society objected. 

The saved part of Knighton Heath common is to the left of the lane. Photo: Nicola Harper

The applicant argued that the registration arose from a mistake: that as all rights of common were extinguished by the Winfrith Heath Act 1957, the land could not remain, nor be eligible to be registered as, common land. However, the applicant was required to show that a mistake was made expressly by Dorset County Council (as it then was)—and this he could not do.[3] The society, in its objection, pointed out that the council did what it was required to do under the 1965 act, and did not decide the merits of what was sought to be registered—that would be decided by a commons commissioner if there were any objection at the time (and there was none). 

At a meeting of the council’s strategic and technical planning committee on 16 October 2023,[4] the committee accepted the recommendation of officers that the application be rejected. 

Says our case officer, Hugh Craddock: ‘This application should never have been made. There was not the slightest evidence that the council had made a mistake in registering the land. It is right that it should remain on the register, a small remnant of what was once an extensive area of common land across Winfrith and Knighton Heaths.’ 

Hugh added: ‘But we are concerned that the owner has erected a fence between most of the land and the public footpath [Winfrith Newburgh FP5] which lacks the required consent for works on common land,[5] and which harms the openness of this remnant of a once-great heath. We call on the owner now to remove it, and the council to take action in default.’ 


[1] Register as Knighton Common CL98 on 28 June 1968. 

[2] 2 Application reference CLD2022/1 (available via here). 

[3] 3 The application was made for the purposes of s.19(2)(a) of the Commons Act 2006, and must therefore show evidence of ‘a mistake made by the commons registration authority in making or amending an entry in the register’. 

[4] 4 Agenda available via here (agenda item 5). 

[5] Restricted works on common land, such as the erection of a fence, require consent of the Secretary of State under s.38 of the Commons Act 2006. 

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