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.
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
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:
- Usually achieved ‘voluntarily’ when landowners and anyone with rights work together when managing common land (e.g. keeping it maintained and not over-grazed).
- 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
- Fishing license rules in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
- How to report a dead animal to the RSPCA?
- Process for reporting environmental hazards (anonymously).
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.