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A well-publicised effect of the coronavirus pandemic has been a significant increase in the number of people looking to move out of urban areas. For many homebuyers seeking that rural idyll, it will be the first time they will have seen mention of a Commons Registration Search among their solicitor’s recommended conveyancing searches.
Around three per cent of land in England is common land. While it’s more prevalent today in rural areas, common land is still found in more densely populated places, where the best examples are village and town greens.
What is Common Land?
All land in England and Wales, including common land, is privately owned. Indeed, larger areas of common land may have many different owners. It’s a widely-held misconception that citizens at large or “commoners” own common land. Instead, what makes the land “common” is the common rights attaching to it, not its ownership.
What are Rights of Common?
Most common land is now “open access land” giving public right of access to it. You can find out if the public has a right of access to an area of land by using this map tool.
In many cases, rights of common do not just include access. The rights attaching to common land vary depending on the rights granted to the commoners in that particular place. These rights typically reflect the historical needs of the rural poor. They may include rights of:
- Pasture for animals;
- Pannage – the right to allow pigs to feed off acorns and beechnuts;
- Stray – grazing rights for cattle;
- Piscary –the right to fish;
- Estovers – the right to take wood;
- Turbary – the right to cut peat or turf for fuel;
- Soil – the right to remove minerals or soil;
- Animals – the right to take wild animals.
Commons Registration Authority
There is a statutory requirement for common land to be registered. The Commons Registration Act 1965, amended by the Commons Act 2006 and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, regulates common land registration by Commons Registration Authorities.
In respect of all common land within its area, a Commons Registration Authority must maintain registers recording the location of:
- common land; and
- town and village greens.
They must also record the rights of common attaching to the land and landowners’ identities if known. These registers must be searchable. It’s worth noting that these registers are not always accurate and statutory requirements govern the correction of mistakes.
When should a Commons Registration Search be carried out?
In general, you should carry out a Commons Registration Search if you are buying land, particularly in a rural area, or where access to it is over open land or even over a wide verge. While rights of common may not attach to the land being purchased, they may attach to neighbouring land or other land in the vicinity. In some cases, the nature of the rights of common attaching to nearby land may make your purchase less attractive.
If a Commons Registration Search is recommended by your solicitor, in most cases it’s requested as an additional enquiry when requesting a Local Authority Search.