North of England farmers with rights to common land are being urged
to submit their views in an important consultation on proposals
for the more effective management of commons.
Land in England & Wales (Source: DETR 1997)
More than half the area of the common land in England and Wales is in the
northern counties of England – with Cumbria alone having 300,000
acres, representing 30 per cent of the total and a further 200,000 acres
In Durham there are 60,000 acres of common land and there are large commons
in Northumberland in Allendale and Hexhamshire – as well as the Town
The consultation launched by rural affairs minister Alun Michael, marks
the culmination of more than 50 years of attempts to address the management
of common land which began after the Second World War and it gives those
with commons rights the final opportunity to express their views before
“ One of the most important aspects which should emerge from this consultation
is that it will be able to empower commoners,” said Andrew Humphries, of
Ivegill, Carlisle, who is adviser to the Cumbria Federation of Commoners – the
first federation in England and Wales which was officially set up earlier this
“ At the moment commoners are being held accountable without being able
to do anything about the issues themselves. The outcome of these consultations
should give individual commoners associations the capacity to pass legal rules
and by-laws to bring about local management of commons,” he said.
Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael said: "Common land is part of
our heritage and a valuable resource - it is valued for nature conservation,
landscape and recreation, and is an essential component of the agricultural
economy, particularly in upland areas. That is one reason why we need to
create a more effective management structure.
" And this is just as important for wildlife. Around half of all common
land in England and Wales is designated as sites of special scientific interest
and a third of the land area lies within the boundaries of Environmentally Sensitive
" At present, it can be an uphill task to find agreement among the many
commoners, landowners and others with an interest in the common on how best to
manage it. Sometimes people fail to find a consensus and the common deteriorates.
" Overgrazing and poor management are causing the variety of species to
diminish in many, particularly upland, commons. At the same time, undergrazing,
and the withdrawal of commoners' livestock, are having an adverse impact on many
other, largely lowland, commons.
" The measures we are consulting on are designed to help facilitate better
management. Commoners and land managers have told us that they want powers to
effectively self-regulate and improve the management of common land - our proposals
are designed to make this possible.
“ Our proposals will bring commoners, owners and others together in statutory
commons associations, with powers of self-regulation in the interests of sustainable
agricultural management. This is a new opportunity for those interested in commons
to demonstrate that they can effectively manage their affairs and the commons
to the benefit of both their agricultural interests and the wider environmental
and biodiversity interests.”
Richard Ellison, NFU North East regional director, said: "Clearly
these proposals will affect a large number of farmers and landowners within
the North East region and the NFU looks forward to participating fully
in the consultation process."
It was after the war that the hill farming committee of England and Wales
set up to advise government began to look at the issues of sustainable
management of commons because of the push on agricultural production.
The complications of creating commons registers brought about
by the 1965 Commons Registrations Act alongside the growing conservation
lobby brought about the Common Land Forum in 1986 to promote legislative
change but it was unable to produce an agreed document.
The consultation paper builds on the recommendations to Government of the
Stakeholder Working Group issued in April 2003.
Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government are inviting comments on the consultation
by 14 November this year.