Natural England - Common land

Common land

Help for those involved in the management of common land.

Commons include some of our most important and diverse landscapes. There are 7,000 commons of England covering nearly 400,000 ha. They are found everywhere from the highest mountains to the heart of towns and cities. No-one is ever far from a common.

Most common land by area is associated with the uplands of northern and western England, and 37% of land above the moorland line is common. Conversely, most commons by number (22% of the total) are found in south-eastern England, near and within large centres of population. 88% of common land is nationally or internationally designated for environmental reasons, and virtually all provides a statutory right of access on foot.

The management of common land

The management of commons presents special challenges. They have distinct legal provisions, partly derived from custom and practice, and from legislation over many centuries. Management depends on action by all those holding common rights (the commoners) working collectively and with land owners and occupiers, towards agreed outcomes. Commons are undergoing major changes.

Commoning, as a way of life, is in decline in certain areas of England (a situation mirrored in Europe), with consequent implications for sustainable management. Commons are visited and enjoyed by large numbers of people, who have an interest in their future. Determining suitable management for commons can take time and involves large numbers of stakeholders.

Help for those involved in the management of common land

  • Information on Commons Councils for landowners, commoners and land managers.

  • The Open Spaces website provides guidance, for practitioners and land managers, on how to reconcile local interests with national designations. See Finding Common Groundexternal link (Open Spaces Society).

  • Stimulating action on local commonsexternal link is a set of factsheets that provide guidance for communities considering action to protect commons where there are no or few active commoners.

  • The Common land toolkitexternal link is a set of factsheets and guidance notes that provide practical guidance for those involved with common land that is under agricultural management by farmers and commoners.

  •  A common purposeexternal link is a guide to agreeing management on common land, and is aimed at practitioners contemplating fencing or other works.

  • Trends in pastoral commoningexternal link is a report that provides an understanding of the extent, role and significance of commoning in England.

  • Commoners, farmers and other land managers wishing to manage common land may want to consider Environmental Stewardship. Common Land and Shared Grazingexternal link is a supplement to the Environmental Stewardship handbooks. It gives detailed advice and the requirments on how to apply for Entry Level Stewardship (including Uplands ELS) and Higher Level Stewardship on common land or shared grazing.

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