Common-land Ownership

Common-land Ownership

The use and the rights over ‘Common Land’:

Those entitled to exercise such rights are called ‘commoners’. It is a popular misconception that common land is owned by the general public and to which everyone has unrestricted right of access. All common land is private property whether the owner is an individual or a corporation.

Common land is generally owned, for example by a local council, privately by a landowner, or by the National Trust. Most of such lands now have a ‘right to roam’ over it by the ‘Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000’.

It is an offence, under Section 193 of the Law of Property Act 1925, for a person without lawful authority to drive onto commons.

All common land is recorded on registers held by the county or unitary council, and these are open to the public. This was initially carried out under the requirements of the ‘Commons Registration Act 1965’. It has subsequently been repealed and replaced by the ‘Commons Act 2006’. These registers contain details of right holdings and ownership of the land.

Town and Village Greens

The town and village greens share a similar history to common land but are defined separately for the purposes of the Commons Registration Act 1965.

These are usually areas of land, within defined settlements on which the local inhabitants have indulged in lawful sports and pastimes for 20 years or more, ‘as of right’.(games, picnics, fetes etc). Some village greens may also have ‘rights of common’ covering them.

Why is Common Land Important?

Around 3% of England’s land area is common land. National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or Scheduled Ancient Monument. These lands are beneficial.

Economically – they provide a living to commoners grazing livestock – as well as providing accessibility for general public recreation. They generate income from sporting, shooting, and fishing. Essentially, they provide the beauty of countryside landscape, access, and tourism.

Agricultural – The farmland and livestock (feedstock) of England. Local infrastructure and sustainable management. Hefting of native sheep flocks, cattle, and horses.

Biodiversity – Through their permanent pastures and natural vegetation. The grazing systems are of historical importance.

Archaeological – Through the preservation of ancient landforms and features in uncultivated soils, undisturbed for centuries. Protecting important historic sites.


Common land and greens provide the focus of communities for ancient and traditional activities, annual fairs, manorial courts etc. Long standing local traditions.

The Commons Act 2006 – protects common land and town or village greens. It reinforces existing protections against abuse, encroachment, and unauthorised development. The Act also sets criteria for the registrations and deregistration of town and village greens.

Public Ownership of Urban Land

Some public bodies are substantial landowners. State or government ownership and public ownership. Public ownership can take place at the national, regional, local, or municipal levels of government, or can refer to non-governmental public ownership vested in autonomous public enterprises.

Public ownership is one of the three major forms of property ownership, differentiated from private, collective/cooperative, and common ownership.

Private property is a legal designation for ownership of property by non-governmental legal entities. The distinction between private and personal property varies depending on political philosophy. Private property is defined and enforced by a country’s political system.

Enclosing of agricultural and the common waste lands in England, came about in the 17th and 18th centuries. ‘Private property’ was much an invention by commercial entities with the emergence of European trading companies of the 17th century. For more details see my Dissertation on ‘Common Rights’. John Locke conceptualized property as a ‘natural right’.

In the 18th century, during the Industrial Revolution, the philosopher and economist Adam Smith (1723-1790) drew a distinction between the ‘right to property’ as an acquired right. Smith confined ‘natural rights’ to ‘liberty and life’, referring to Capitalism as the new surge and drive for common ‘ownership’. To follow the theories of ‘socialism’ see my comments on PB Shelley and Karl Marx,

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