Wildlife & Countryside

How is Common Land managed?

Statutory Commons Councils

Part 2 of the Commons Act 2006 enables the creation of statutory commons councils (Defra is currently consulting on this and is looking at bringing into force this part of the Act in Spring 2009). This will allow commons to be managed more sustainably by commoners and landowners working together, through these councils which may be granted functions related to the management of agricultural activities, vegetation, and common rights. Part 2 of the Act also provides powers for the Secretary of State to alter, or remove existing management arrangements where they might conflict with the functions granted to a new statutory commons council.


Severance often means that common rights end up in the hands of farmers or graziers who do not live near the common, have no knowledge of the common itself, and may disrupt the livestock management practices there. This makes it difficult to manage agriculture on commons sustainably, causes problems for local rights holders grazing on the common, and reduces the economic efficiency of grazing common land. The retrospective ban will ensure local control of grazing on the commons.

The Commons Act prohibits the severance of common rights, preventing commoners from selling, leasing or letting their rights away from the property to which rights are attached.  This prohibition had effect from 28 June 2005.

Temporary letting of rights of common

The provisions enable the Secretary of State (in Wales, the National Assembly for Wales) to make regulations prescribing exceptions to the prohibition on severance. An order allowing the short term leasing or letting of rights (up to two years) in England has been made, and has effect from 28 June 2005.

Good practice guidance

A Common Purpose: A guide to agreeing management on common land, (published by the former English Nature, provides advice for those interested in managing common land, particularly where an application for consent to works on common land is contemplated.

The Good Practice Guide on managing the use of common land [PDF] (3 MB) published by DETR in June 1998, remains available as a guide to the management of common land.

A guidance note on the voluntary dedication of land as a town or village green [PDF] (84 KB) provides advice to landowners in England on dedicating land under section 15(8) of the Commons Act 2006 as a town or village green and on alternative mechanisms to provide public access to land. 

Management Projects

There are many active management projects being carried out on common land across the country. These are exploring new and often innovative approaches to managing both upland and lowland commons. For further information on projects please see:

Environmental Stewardship and Common Land

Agri-environment schemes are a relatively recent innovation that have provided financial support for the management of common land. Starting with the Environmentally Sensitive Area Scheme in 1987, farmers were compensated for entering into agreements which required them to manage commons in a more sustainable manner.

The Higher Level Environmental Stewardship scheme is particularly suited to applications from those engaged in agricultural activity on common land. For further information on Environmental Stewardship Schemes see:

Byelaw making powers

Local authorities have powers under various Acts of Parliament to make byelaws on common land. Byelaws are local laws that create criminal offences. Before they can come into effect, byelaws must be confirmed by the Secretary. Defra deals with applications from local authorities and parish and town councils for confirmation of byelaws on common land for which the Secretary of State is the confirming authority. Defra has guidance notes and model byelaws to assist local authorities in this process. These are available on the byelaw powers for local authorities page.

Commons Acts 1876 and 1899

Some 36 commons in England and Wales are regulated under the Commons Act 1876. The Act enabled commons to be regulated by means of an Order made on application to the Inclosure Commissioners, and confirmed by Parliament by means of a Provisional Order Confirmation Act.

The Commons Act 1899 provides an easier process for enabling district councils to manage commons, particularly where their use for exercise and recreation is the prime consideration and where the owner and commoners do not require a direct voice in the management. Further information can be found at:


Page last modified: 23 October 2008
Page published: 23 October 2008

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs