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Slow traffic on unfenced commons

October 6, 2012





 The Open Spaces Society,(1) Britain’s leading campaign group for common land,(2) has called for a universal speed-limit of 40 mph where unfenced roads cross common land.  The society has responded to a consultation from the Department for Transport on the revision of its speed-limit circular.

The Department favours a speed limit of 40 mph for roads ‘with a predominantly local, access or recreational function’ and the society considers that unfenced roads across common land should be included.

Says Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society: ‘Commons are important for their landscape qualities, history, archaeology, wildlife and opportunities for quiet recreation, on foot and horseback.  But too many are now crossed by busy roads with speeding traffic.

‘In order to reintroduce grazing animals to benefit the biodiversity, habitat and public access, owners and managers feel they must erect fencing against the roads to protect the stock, and the motorists, from collisions.

‘But it is far preferable to slow the traffic than to fence the common,’ says Kate.  ‘Fencing is an eyesore, enclosing a historically open landscape.  It is a physical and psychological barrier to public access.  People should be able to wander onto the common from any point along the road: even if gates and stiles are provided, the fence is still a severe barrier to access.

‘Commons are traditionally open and unenclosed.  Many were stolen during the inclosure movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Those that remain are incredibly precious.

‘With a universal speed limit, motorists would know that if they entered a common it was a special place, whose life and traditions should be respected.

‘Of course the police would need to enforce the speed limit, but if there were a few high-profile prosecutions the message would get through.

‘There is a 40-mph speed limit on the unfenced roads across the Dartmoor National Park, and it certainly helps to reduce accidents involving livestock.  Recently on Litcham Common in Norfolk, cattle grids were installed with signs urging drivers to slow down, the roadside fencing was removed and the land is open once more.

‘It would make all the difference if the Department of Transport would take up our proposal and introduce a 40-mph speed limit on our magnificent commons,’ Kate concludes.


Notes for editors

1.         The Open Spaces Society was founded in 1865 and is Britain’s oldest national conservation body.  It campaigns to protect common land, village greens, open spaces and public paths, and people’s right to enjoy them.

2.         Common land goes back before medieval times and is land over which others have rights associated with their properties, to graze animals, collect wood or dig peat for instance.  Traditionally these rights were vital to people’s existence, but many have now fallen into disuse.  All commons have an owner and there is a public right to walk over all of them and on some a right to ride horses.  Works on common land require the consent of the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (delegated to the Planning Inspectorate) in addition to any planning permission.  There are 1,544 square miles of commons in England, in 7,062 separate units, embracing all types of landscape and habitat from the moors of Dartmoor to the Norfolk coast.  Eighty eight per cent of all common land is nationally or internationally designated, for its landscape, habitat or archaeology.

Natural England has established that:

  • ·         55 per cent of common land by area in England is designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) (and 20 per cent of SSSIs are common land),
  • ·         48 per cent by area fall within a National Park, ten per cent by number,
  • ·         31 per cent by area (and 23 per cent by number) fall within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB),
  • ·         38 per cent of open access land is common land,
  • ·         11 per cent of scheduled ancient monuments are on common land.
 CONTACT:   Kate Ashbrook

                                                    Kate Ashbrook

General Secretary

The Open Spaces Society

25A Bell Street

Henley-on-Thames RG9 2BA



The Open Spaces Society is a registered charity (no 1144840) and a company limited by guarantee, registered in England & Wales (no 7846516).

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2012 12:01 pm

    The introduction of cattle grids and random humps would help to ensure that the police would not have to use scarce resources to prevent idiots speeding across open land. Fencing should surely be a last resort rather than a first resort

  2. October 7, 2012 8:08 pm

    I’m never sure about humps myself as they cause huge damage to cars, even when driven so slowly you’re slipping the clutch. Cars are expensive enough to maintain as it is. I’d certainly be in favour of a 40mph limit on unfenced commons though. Maybe more attention should be drawn to the fact that, if motorists are ‘unfortunate’ enough to run into something big at speed, e.g. a cow, deer or pony, the chances are they will also be killed or seriously injured themselves! That might slow them down… I suppose it mightn’t though 😦

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