In various parts of the countryside you may come upon the historical term Lammas-land. Usually meadow lands, they are a form of common land where right-holders are entitled to pasture their beasts following the harvest of hay. The period for grazing (or open period) runs from Lammas Day (12 August) until Lady Day on 25 March or in some cases, until 6 April. This custom dates back to the Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas or ‘loaf-mas’ that ran from 1st August until 1st September. It was a festival to mark the wheat harvest, when a loaf was made from the new crop.
Half-yearly lands may be subject to physical restrictions, often by flooding during winter from overflowing rivers, streams and marshes. They are often referred to as ‘Lammas’ simply to indicate their ‘closed period’ when access is not allowed. This all dates from the manorial period when the lord of the manor provided his tenants with communal rights over ‘waste’ lands. Such were the ancient Lammas rights.
Controls were strengthened over Lammas lands by Section 38 of the Commons Act 2006, and they remain subject to the protection of the Commons Registration Act 1965. Great advantage is given over Lammas lands, not only to prevent development but to environmental issues. Half-yearly land, closed over a period, provides protection to wildlife. This particularly applies with migrating, overwintering birds and waterfowl. The safeguards over these common lands has prevented enclosures and the developments over wastelands elsewhere.
Lammas lands are usually closed during the winter months when the public may be discouraged from using some of the footpaths. There are various forms of ‘similar’ lands, not identical with Lammas land. This is where the ownership of several portions of land are rotated. For example, ‘shack’ lands where, after arable crops are harvested, commoner/right-holders may graze animals on the stubble. Access to certain lands may be determined by ‘Lots’ this will often apply to meadows when hay or herbage is to be cut. Such activities are subject to local custom and periods vary according to the topographical circumstances.
In conclusion, Lammas lands are usually ancient hay meadows, but can be arable, held in several (often distributed in lots) during the crop-raising period, but subject to ‘rights of common’ at other times. It usually applies to pasturage.