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“A truly fascinating subject and day.”
Attendee at training course on Commons management for land managers, October 2014.

Why commons are special

Common land is unique. It 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 land 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.

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.

The public has the right to walk on all registered commons, subject to certain restrictions, and on many commons there is also a right to ride.

Our role

The particular role of the Open Spaces Society is recognised in that we are notified of all applications for works on, and exchanges of, common land.

Campaigning for commons

Follow this link to see a video of the talk given by our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, at the IASC European conference in Umea, Sweden in September 2014.


    • 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.

    • Who owns common land?

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

    • 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!

    • 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.

    • How do I find out whether the 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.

    • 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. The Open Spaces Society is notified by the applicant and will express a view. Certain works are exempt from these procedures.

If a work has been erected without consent, the landowner, commoners or local authority may be able to take action and, under certain circumstances, the public can too. If you wish to consider taking action against an unlawful work on your common, we can offer advice.

Information sheets

We have published the following information sheets giving advice and guidance on common land issues. Please follow the relevant links below to download the information sheets free of charge:

Buildings, fences and other works on common land in England
How to take action against unlawful encroachments and works on commons in England

Buildings, fences and other works on common land in Wales
How to take action against unlawful encroachments and works on commons in Wales

A Common Purpose

A Common Purpose – a guide to agreeing management on common land

Finding Common Ground

The first-ever guide on how to recognise and take account of local community interests in common land

Common Vision DVD

Visit the common vision DVD website


Please visit our Information Hub to read more about Commons

and the work of the Open Spaces Society.