The Commons Act, which updates laws governing common land that
date back more than 700 years, has received Royal Assent.
Landscape Minister Barry Gardiner said the Commons Act 2006 would
protect common land in England and Wales for future generations
and promote sustainable farming, public access to the countryside,
and the interests of threatened wildlife and their habitats.
“Common land is central to our national heritage: we value
it for agriculture, recreation, nature conservation, landscape
and often for its historical and archaeological significance,” he
“This is one of the most significant pieces of legislation
protecting common land in our history.
“This Act finally repeals the Commons Act of 1285, passed
during the reign of Edward I, which has formed the basis of the
way common land is protected and regulated for more than 700 years.
“The new Commons Act builds on its legacy by creating modern,
flexible laws that will ensure that we are looking after the interests
of wildlife and the countryside as well as commoners, landowners,
and the ordinary people who get so much enjoyment from our common
Common land is often highly valuable as a habitat for wildlife,
with around 55% of common land in England being designated as a
Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and only 63% of this
land is in favourable or recovering condition – much lower
than the 73% average for all SSSI land in England.
The new Act enables commons to be managed more sustainably by
commoners and landowners working together through new commons councils
with powers to regulate grazing, vegetation and other agricultural
activities. This will help bring more common land into good or
recovering condition, contributing to the Government's target of
95% of all SSSIs being in good or recovering condition by 2010.
It also sets new, clear criteria for registering town or village
greens, which will give local people the ability to register places
that are of value to them for recreation and green space, and protect
them permanently. It also allows “missed” commons to
There are 396,800 hectares of common land in England and 175,000
hectares in Wales contained in around 8675 separate commons. Common
land represents 3% of England's area, and 12% of Wales's.
The Act will also provide better protection for common land and
greens by streamlining the consents system for works and fencing
on commons and ensuring that existing protections are applied consistently.
It will also reinforce existing protections against abuse, encroachment
and unauthorised development.
Mr Gardiner said implementation of the Act would begin immediately,
and would be rolled out over a number of years.
“Defra will establish a National Commons Stakeholder Group
to ensure stakeholders have a clear way to contribute their views
on how commons are managed and how the Act is implemented. It will
also help us build and achieve consensus between stakeholders on
matters of national interest, like managing priority wildlife habitats,” he
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