Traditional Common Rights

Who owns common land?

Common land is mainly privately owned, though in the Lake District bodies such as the National Trust (16 commons) and the National park authority (2 commons) own large areas.  

Who are the commoners?

The commoners are holders of registered rights of common. Historically a range of property rights was vital to daily life in upland communities, where in addition to grazing a range of other benefits were derived. These included the right of turbary (peat), pannage (acorns and beechmast for pigs), haybote (wood for house repairs), piscary (fish from Manorial waters) and many other local benefits. Nowadays the only right of economic significance is the right to pasture – predominantly for sheep and cattle, though rights for other livestock such as horses and geese still exist.

How many animals can each commoner graze?

Originally, on most commons, each commoner was limited in the number of stock that the farm could support in winter from its own resources (the key principle of ‘levancy and couchancy’). A registration system was introduced in 1965 and is held by the County Council.

How are the commons managed today?

On many commons, Commoners Associations have been formed by the commoners. Every activity such as gathering continues to be arranged informally, but the Associations have proved valuable, for example, when considering entrance into various environmental schemes. They lack however, the enforcement powers of the former Manorial Court, a deficiency recognised by the Commons Act 2006 which is promoting the establishment of Commons Councils.

Is there public access?

Certainly. In Cumbria, there has been a long tradition of universal access to common land. Now the ‘CROW’ legislation, a more general right to walk freely on common land is being introduced. Please note that while dogs are allowed it is advisable that they are kept on a lead at all times.