Shropshire Common Land
Common land is land owned by one or more persons where other people, known as ‘commoners’ are entitled to use the land or take resources from it. All common land is owned by somebody, either privately or by a public body such as a local council or the National Trust. A commoner is a person who usually owns property on or near the common land and certain rights are included in their land deeds. These rights have been handed down from medieval times when lords granted villagers certain rights on their land. The rights are still in existence today and their origin can be seen from the names, ie
· Pasturage - the right to put livestock out to feed on the land, usually grass but can be heather or other vegetation
· Pannage - the right to put pigs out to feed in wooded areas of the land
· Estover - the right to take specific timber products from the land, like whole trees or firewood
· Turbary - the right to take turf or peat from the land to burn as fuel
· Piscary - the right to take fish from ponds, lakes, rivers and streams
· Soil - the right to take soil or minerals from the common
· Animals - the right to take wild animals
Lammas Rights – the right to pasture following the harvest, between Lammas Day (12th August) to 6th April, even if they did not have other rights to the land.
Commoners can only take enough turf, peat, fish, minerals or animals for the property to which their right of common is attached. An owner of a common can use the land and take resources from it provided this doesn’t interfere with commoner’s rights. An example of this would be where a commoner had grazing rights on the land, so the landowner couldn’t build houses there as it would reduce the amount of grazing land.
Today there are over 7,000 registered areas of common land in England alone but once there were a great deal more. Many were lost as a result of the Enclosure Acts from the 16th Century onwards, although most of these took place between 1760 and 1820. A good background to the enclosure of common land can be found in Wikipedia.
The general public have no commoner rights but they do have a right to roam on the land and to use it for outdoor activities such as walking and climbing. Horse riding is allowed on some commons but not all. The public is not allowed to :-
· - camp without the owner’s permission
· - light a fire or have a barbecue
· - hold a festival or other event without permission
· - drive across it without permission or right of access.
It is an offence to drive a vehicle onto common land unless the driver intends to park it within 15 yards of a public road or the driver has permission from the landowner. Such permission may be for access to their property or to manage livestock.
Town and village greens are now registered as common land and can be used for sport and recreation, eg playing football or walking a dog. Some also have ‘rights of common’ over them like grazing livestock (for which reason many have a pond for the cattle to drink). Many greens are owned and maintained by local parish or community councils but some are privately owned.
In some areas, common land has been created by specific Acts of Parliament and there are unique laws for how the local authority can manage it. It is often the case that commoners and landowners work together on a Commons Council to manage the land. Such councils can make legally binding rules for how people use the common land. Commoners and landowners can also set up a voluntary group called a Commons Association but this has no legal power and relies on members to agree how the common should be managed. There are several pieces of legislation relating to commons, ie
Erection of Cottages Act 1588
There was a belief that if an English man or woman could build a house on common land, raise the roof over their head and have a fire in the hearth between sunrise and sunset, then they could have the right of undisturbed possession. The belief was actually a fallacy but the Act was passed to stop landless peasants unlawfully squatting on commons.
Commons Act 1876
This Act regulated 36 commons in England and Wales and allowed for part of them to be enclosed
Commons Act 1899
This Act enabled district councils (and subsequently and National Park authorities) to manage commons where their use for exercise and recreation is the prime consideration and where the owner and commoners do not require a direct voice in the management, or where the owner cannot be found.
The Law of Property Act 1925
· Section 193 gave the right of the public to "air and exercise" on Metropolitan commons and those in pre-1974 urban districts and boroughs.
· Section 194 restricted the enclosure of commons, which would now require Ministerial consent.
Commons Registration Act 1965
This established a register of common land. Not all common land has an owner but it is all registered, along with the rights of any commoners if they still exist. The registration authorities are the County Councils and, when there is no ownership, a local parish council is normally given guardianship.
Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000
This Act gave all of the public the right to roam freely on all registered common land in England and Wales.
Commons Act 2006
This Act enables commons to be managed more sustainably by commoners and landowners working together through commons councils with powers to regulate grazing and other agricultural activities. It also prohibits the severance of rights of common grazing, preventing commoners from selling, leasing or letting their rights away from the property to which rights are attached,
Gazetteer of Commons
At present, there are 86 registered areas of common land in Shropshire. There is a national searchable database of common land giving more details for these. Below is a list with summary information for the registered common land in Shropshire. More details are available by clicking on the pdf file below.
There are also a number of areas in Shropshire with the name ‘Common’ but these are not registered. The name is probably historical and commoners’ rights have been lost as a result of them being enclosed in the past. The list is as follows :-