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Common Lands and Village Greens

The National Archives describes common land as 'terra firma' with ownership rights held by one or more persons for differing uses (e.g. livestock grazing, wood collection).

This section explains common land rights, including the responsibilities for owners, and the general uses for town and village greens.

Using Your Right to Roam on Common Land

The exact rules and legislation for using land masses owned by a third party vary with differing rights of access.

As a rule, either a local council, the National Trust, or a private entity will be owners of common lands in the United Kingdom.

In most cases, you can exercise your right to roam on it (e.g. for popular activities like climbing, watching wildlife, and walking).

Nonetheless, even though horse-riding is allowed in some areas of common land, you would not be able to carry out certain types of activities and pastimes, including:

  • Camping on it (unless you have permission from the registered owner).
  • Lighting a fire or cooking a barbecue.
  • Holding a festival without permission (including other similar types of outdoor events).
  • Driving a vehicle across it (except mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs) without the owner’s permission.

Note: The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has further guidance about when you can legally drive across common land or town and village greens to gain access to your own property by a vehicle.

Register of Common Land and Village Greens

The council can help you find your local park (including playgrounds, nature reserves, sports pitches, and other open spaces) via the local ‘Register of Common Land and Village Greens’ in England and Wales.

Entries in the register will include useful information, such as:

  • A detailed description of the land area.
  • The owner (or who originally owned it when they registered it).
  • Who can use it and what rights they have.

Note: The main section contains further information about effective environmental resource management (e.g. the Country Code and hunting laws) in the United Kingdom.

How to Comment on Changes to Common Land

You can voice your opinion (in writing) about applications to change common lands. They advertise the plans on signs installed at the location as well as in local newspapers.

The Commons Team
The Planning Inspectorate
Room 3A Eagle Wing
Temple Quay House
2 The Square
Temple Quay

Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 0303 444 5408
Find out about phone call charges

Proper Management of Common Land

The interests of the owners – and people with common land rights (commoners) – must be considered by anyone managing the land.

There are several ways to achieve this. In most cases, it will be carried out by the landowner themselves, but it may also be done:

  • Informally:
    • Usually achieved ‘voluntarily’ when landowners and anyone with rights work together when managing common land (e.g. keeping it maintained and not over-grazed).
  • Formally:
    • You can set up a statutory commons council (established by law) to manage common land. The stakeholders would sit on the council and use a voting system to make legally binding decisions.

Cross Compliance in England 2015

Some landowners claim agricultural payments through the Single Payment Scheme. In this case, you would need to comply with cross compliance 2015 guidance (across all agricultural land).

All stakeholders will share cross compliance responsibilities for common land. So, setting up a commons council can help them meet the rules if other stakeholders are using the land (in an active manner).

Rights for Town and Village Greens

It is not uncommon for people to use the mowed ‘green’ areas in towns and villages for different kinds of sports and recreation. Typical examples include dog walking, playing bowls, and other ball sports.

Even so, community councils and local parishes own some town and village greens and they may have ‘rights of common’ over them (e.g. to allow livestock to graze).

Important: The usual ‘freedom to roam‘ would not apply in this situation – such as on ‘excepted land’ where it remains private.

Related Help Guides

Note: This short video [3:43 seconds] highlights how some landowners and farmers may be threatening Britain’s ‘right to roam’ by illegally blocking the routes that pass through their property.

UK Rules for Common Land and Village Greens