Common land and town and village greens

What is common land?

Common land is land, usually in private ownership, that has rights of common over it. The main features of common land are that it is generally open, unfenced and remote – particularly in the upland areas of England and Wales. However, there are some lowland areas of common, particularly in the south-east of England, that are important for recreational uses.

Rights of common can include:

  • grazing sheep or cattle (herbage)
  • taking peat or turf (turbary)
  • taking wood, gorse or furze (estovers)
  • taking of fish (piscary)
  • eating of acorns or beechmast by pigs (pannage).

The people who are able to exercise the rights listed above are generally known as ‘commoners’.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000 permits public access to open countryside including access to common land. The Countryside Agency have published conclusive maps for all areas showing the land (including commons) to which the public have access and the new open access rights are now in operation in all regions subject to any short or long term restrictions that may apply.

What is a town or village green?

Town or village greens share a similar history to common land. However, they are defined separately for the purposes of the Commons Registration Act 1965.

Village greens are usually areas of land within defined settlements or geographical areas which local inhabitants can go onto for the exercise of lawful sports and pastimes as of right for at least 20 years and either a) continue to do so or b) have ceased to do so for not more than said period as may be prescribed. Typically, these might include organised or ad-hoc games, picnics, fetes and other similar activities. Whilst land forming town or village greens may be privately owned, many greens are owned and maintained by local parish or community councils. Some greens may also have rights of common, for example,  grazing of livestock, over them.

Information on how to register land as a new town or village green can be found at Town or village greens.

The Commons Act 2006

The Commons Registration Act 1965 has been replaced in Devon and eight other authorities by the Commons Act 2006. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) contacted all one hundred and forty eight Commons Registration Authorities and asked if they would like to be a pioneering authority to help them test Part 1 of the Commons Act 2006. Out of the one hundred and forty eight authorities nine have been chosen and Devon County Council is one of them.

The Commons Registration (England) Regulations 2008 came in to force on 1 October 2008, these have been replaced by the Commons Registration (England) Regulations 2014 for Devon County Council and the remaining eight pioneering authorities.

More information