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Common Land Crucial To Survival

November 5, 2012




‘In many parts of the world the survival of the commons(1) is crucial to the survival of the people they support, as they were to our peasant farmers before the inclosures—and still are to farming communities in the uplands of Cumbria, Dartmoor and mid-Wales.’

So writes Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society,(2) in the society’s magazine Open Space, published today (5 November).  Kate recalls the work of Elinor (Lin) Ostrom,(3) who died in June this year and was a great scholar, advocate and friend of the commons.

The society criticises the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for its failure fully to implement part 1 of the Commons Act 2006 to update the common-land registers: at present it is only operating in seven ‘pioneer’ areas.  This would give certainty of where the commons are as well as allowing the public to reclaim the lost commons with their accompanying access rights.

Writes Kate: ‘If we had governments which understood and supported commons, we could once again see them as a significant part of the rural economy.’

Also in this issue of Open Space:

  • ·        Winner of the society’s first-ever Open Space Award, Bishop’s Meadow Trust, Farnham, Surrey, for saving a lovely meadow (page 3),

·        Good practice at Litcham Common in Norfolk: new cattle-grids installed and roadside fence removed (page 5),
·        Campaign for London’s Clapham Common (page 6),

·        Wealden woodland at Crowborough Common in East Sussex, saved from development as a private car-park (page 7),

·        New green at Holland-on-Sea, Essex (page 9),

·        Praise for Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council for informing the society about temporary fence on Burbage Common, Leicestershire (page 10),

·        Our response to Hertfordshire County Council’s private bill to allow filming on highways (page 12)

·        Paths saved at Motts Lane rail crossing at Witham in Essex (page 12), West Hoathly in West Sussex and Crook in Durham (page 13),

·        Path lost at Dorking in Surrey (page 14).


Notes for editors

1          Common land, ie land with shared interests, exists worldwide.  The common land of England and Wales has a particular definition and is land subject to rights of common, to graze animals or collect wood for instance, or waste land of the manor not subject to rights.  Under the Commons Registration Act 1965 all commons had to be registered during a three-year period and any that failed to be registered then ceased to be common.  Commons are protected from development because any works on commons require the consent of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (in England) and the Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development (in Wales).  There is a public right to walk on all commons, and a right to ride on some, in particular those in former urban districts and those where the landowner has granted a deed of access which includes horse-riders.

2.         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.

3.         Elinor (Lin) Ostrom who died in June was an internationally-acclaimed champion of commons.  She was the first and only woman to win the Nobel prize for economics, in 2009, for her ground-breaking work on commons.  She was senior research director of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University, USA and was a founding president of the International Association for the Study of the Commons.

CONTACT:          Kate Ashbrook      

Kate Ashbrook

General Secretary

The Open Spaces Society

25A Bell Street

Henley-on-Thames RG9 2BA

tel 01491 573535,



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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