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Local authorities, commoners, landowners, countryside ...
Local authorities, commoners, landowners, countryside

organisations and individuals all stand to benefit from guidance

launched by environment minister Michael Meacher on the

management of common land.

Common land is an important national resource. It comprises

about 8% of the total agricultural land in England and Wales and is a

vital component of many upland farms.

The Guide proposes practical solutions to problems and draws on

the experience of those involved in the day-to-day management of

common land.

The proposals include:

guidance on how to set up a Commoners' Association;

advice on drawing up a Management Plan;

where to find information on Commons Registers;

advice on tackling over and under grazing; and

procedures for fencing and other works on common land.

In a written answer to a parliamentary question Mr Meacher said:

'The Guide provides practical advice and solutions to problems

experienced in the management of common land and highlights examples

of good practice. It is designed for all involved in governing and

managing common land. We are therefore distributing copies of the

Guide widely to interested organisations and individuals.'


1. Common land is different from other property because the ownership

of the land has traditionally been subject to 'rights of common' held

by other individuals over the same area. These 'rights of common'

entitle persons possessing such rights ('commoners') to use a range

of the products and characteristics of land that belong to another

person. The wide range of activities covered under the term 'rights

of common' - such as the grazing of stock, collecting of timber, or

taking of fish - have their origin in local custom.

2. Common land covers more than 550,000 hectares of land (3% of

England and 9% of Wales) in 8,675 separate commons. It ranges from

large urban commons, such as Hampstead Heath, to the remote hills of

Cumbria. Because it has not been managed intensively, it is often of

more than agricultural value and many commons are important for their

ecological, archaeological, landscape, sporting or other recreational


3. The 1995 White Paper 'Rural England' announced that the government

would commission a management guide to identify and publicise

practice in managing common land.

4. The research project was undertaken by the Countryside and

Community Research Unit of the Cheltenham and Gloucester College of

Higher Education. Its primary aim was to establish and disseminate

good practice in the management of common land, taking account of

local arrangements and customs, and reflecting current legislation.

The Guide is designed to assist all those who use and manage common

land - landowners, commoners, local authorities, national and local

countryside organisations and individuals - providing practical

solutions to problems.

5. The project has been overseen by a steering group, consisting of

the department, MAFF (including its Farming and Rural Conservation

Agency) and Welsh Office, and an advisory group. The advisory group

was made up of the steering group members and representatives from

English Nature, the Countryside Commission, the Countryside Council

for Wales, English Heritage, the Open Spaces Society, the National

Trust, the National Farmers' Union, the Country Landowners'

Association, the Association of National Parks, the Duchy of

Cornwall, the Moorland Association, the Wildlife Trusts and Edward

Harris (a legal expert on common land).

6. The Guide has been distributed to county councils, unitary

authorities, district councils, borough councils, metropolitan

councils and most parish councils in England, local authorities and

Commoners' Associations in Wales, as well as to a number of

non-government organisations and individuals. Copies of the Guide are

available free of charge from the Department of the Environment,

Transport and the Regions, Room 818, Tollgate House, Houlton Street,

Bristol, BS2 9DJ (Telephone: 0117-9878883; Fax: 0117-9878969).

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