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Section 22(1) of the Commons Registration Act 1965 defines “Common land' as:
"land subject to rights of common, whether exercisable at all times or only during limited periods, and waste land of a manor not subject to rights of common, but does not include a town or village green or any land forming part of a highway."
Common land is land that is owned by one party over which another party has certain rights for example right to graze cattle. Common land is not owned by the public however it may have a right of public access or the public may be allowed to use it.
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 extends public rights of access to all registered common land in England and Wales. This includes the ‘right to roam’ and allows for activities like walking, sightseeing, bird-watching and climbing. It does not allow for riding bicycles or horses, driving vehicles, camping, and a number of other activities that may damage the common land and its vegetation or disturb livestock or wildlife. In some circumstances, people who have to drive across a common to access their property may have a right to do so. The Welsh Government advises that landowners check which public access rights apply to their common.
Common land in Wales
Approximately 8.5% of Wales is covered by registered common land amounting to around 175,000 hectares. A number of small commons are adjacent to each other, making up large areas of common land across Wales. These small commons may have different owners and different rights holders.
Many commons are important for agriculture in Wales, providing grazing for sheep and cattle. In addition, common land can provide important habitat for protected birds, wildlife and plants and many commons are enjoyed for their leisure and environmental interests. Some common land is situated in National Parks or is owned by the National Trust.
The law in relation to common land is largely governed by the Commons Act 2006.
The Commons Act 2006
The Welsh Ministers have responsibility for implementing the 2006 Act in Wales. Although the 2006 Act does not contain any 'Wales only' provisions it allows the Welsh Ministers to act as the 'appropriate national authority' in Wales.
The 2006 Act makes provision about the registration of rights of common to include the deregistration and exchange of common land, the establishment of commons councils as well as other provisions including amendments of the Commons Act 1889. These provisions are largely not yet in force in Wales.
The 2006 Act also deals with the undertaking of restricted works on common land. In Wales, a person must not, without the Welsh Ministers’ consent, carry out certain restricted works on land which is defined in section 38(5) of the 2006 Act. The 2006 Act sets out the matters to which the Welsh Ministers must have regard in deciding whether to grant consent and makes provision for enforcement powers where works are carried out without consent.
Common Land Registration Authorities
The Commons Registration Act 1965 required each county council to establish a Register of Common Land. They were also required to administer the registration of common land and town and village greens required under the 1965 Act.
Each of the 22 current local authorities in Wales is a Commons Registration Authority and they hold the Registers established under the 1965 Act. They offer support and advice on common land issues and are the first point of contact for the majority of common land queries.
The main functions of Commons Registration Authorities today include:
- registration of new town and village greens;
- removing common land from registers;
- conducting searches of the register;
- handling applications for amendments; and
- maintaining the registers for public inspection.