Federation objects to MoD's application to de-register Hilton, Murton and Warcop commons

We have just sent in our objection letter to Cumbria Council. It reads as follows:

Dear Mrs Bainbridge,

Applications to Deregister Common Land: CA14/3: Murton Common (CL76), CA14/4 Hilton Common (CL27) and Burton and Warcop Fell Common (CL122)

The Federation of Cumbria Commoners was set up in early 2003 to be a representative voice to support and protect the commoners of Cumbria. Thirty five Cumbria Commoners’ Associations are members of the Federation, representing nearly 500 hill farmers who manage a large proportion Cumbria’s commons. Our members make a significant contribution to Cumbria’s rural economy creating income and employment (farm labour and contractors and downstream contributions to farm suppliers, local stores etc.) and to the social fabric of rural communities. Over and above food and breeding stock production they deliver substantial public benefits such as landscape, biodiversity, access and cultural heritage.

The Federation, on behalf of its members strongly opposes the Ministry of Defence’s applications to de-register Murton, Hilton and Burton and Warcop fell as common land for three main reasons:

Intention of 2006 Commons Act

The MoD’s application goes against the spirit of the 2006 Commons Act. According to the Common Land Policy statement, 2002 the intention behind the 2006 Act is to restrict the grounds for de-registration of common land. This application reduces Cumbria’s stock of common land by 3%. This common land is part of the North Pennines AONB, one of Cumbria’s evocative landscapes, is an integral part of hill farm operations in the area and contributes significantly to the local economy and employment.  

Legality of the application

The MoD made the applications under paragraph 2 of Schedule 3 of the Commons Act 2006 and associated regulations. This application meets only one of the two legal tests needed to deregister common land. In 2003 the land did cease to be common land subject to rights of common, but there is no evidence that the land has ceased to be waste of the manor. This second criteria also has to be satisfied if the land is to be de-registered as common land. Granting deregistration where only one of the legal test is satisfied would be unlawful.

Unrealistic interpretation of Commons Councils

The MoD is reneging on the undertaking it made in 2003 not to apply to Cumbria County Council to de-register the land as common land. Part of their change of mind appears to be based on an unrealistic interpretation of the 2006 Commons Act.  The MoD asserted in its Consultation Summary, 2012, that a Commons Council could be established over the commons they own and as a result they could lose management control. The Federation of Cumbria Commoners has been working with Defra to set up a Commons Council for Cumbria since 2011 and we have built up a considerable body of knowledge on establishing Commons Councils. We believe that the MoD’s assertion is unfounded for two reasons:

  • The MoD already have full power to manage the land in their own interests as no persons have rights of common on Murton, Hilton, Burton and Warcop fells. We cannot envisage that the Secretary of State for Defra will wish, or have the resources to establish a Council over common land where there are no commoners.
  • If the Federation manages to establish a Cumbria Commons Council it will have no jurisdiction or powers over the MoD commons, unless the MoD wishes this common land to join the Council.

Please can you ensure our representation is put before your committee in full.

We would like to be kept updated as to the progress of this matter. If additional information is submitted by MoD we request the opportunity to see this information and make further representations if necessary.

Yours sincerely,

Viv Lewis

Administrator, Federation of Cumbria Commoners