Commons Law

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Commons Law regarding Common Land in England

As pertaining to Common Land in England, from the Wikipedia:

"The legal position concerning common land is confused. Most commons are based on ancient rights which pre-date the established law and even the monarchy. The exact rights which apply to individual commons may be documented but more often are based on long-held traditions. The UK government tried to regularise the definitions of common land with the Commons Registration Act 1965, which established a register of common land. However numerous inconsistencies and irregularities remain.

Prior to the Erection of Cottages Act 1588, an Englishman could build his house on common land, if he could raise the roof over his head and have a fire in the hearth between sunrise and sunset, and claim the dwelling as his home.

Registered commons often abut each other, so what may appear to be a single large common may in fact consist of several commons with no visible boundary between them — these may for example be in different parishes. The commoners will have reciprocal rights over each other's commons.

The maintenance of fences around a common is the responsibility of the occupiers of the adjacent enclosed land, not (as it would be with enclosed land) the responsibility of the owners of the grazed livestock. This can lead to difficulties where not all adjacent occupiers maintain their fences properly.

The act of transferring resources from the commons to purely private ownership is known as enclosure, or (especially in formal use, and in place names) Inclosure. The Inclosure Acts were a series of private Acts of Parliament, mainly from about 1750 to 1850, which enclosed large areas of common, especially the arable and haymeadow land and the better pasture land.

It is often thought that a common is somehow owned by everyone, or at least by the community in some sense. While that may have been true more than a thousand years ago, when waste [disambiguation needed] would be used for grazing by the local community and over which there would not be, nor would there need to be, any particular limit or control of usage; since at least late Anglo-Saxon times, the right to exercise a right of common has been restricted to a commoner.

The use of commons rights were carefully controlled, and so in practice commons did not usually suffer from the tragedy of the commons. For example, in response to overgrazing a common would be stinted, that is, a limit would be put on the number of animals each commoner was allowed to graze. These regulations were responsive to demographic and economic pressure — rather than let a common be degraded, access was usually restricted even further.

Commons are often crossed by public roads, and this leads to another problem on modern pasture commons where grazing survives (or is to be reintroduced). Historically, the roads would have been cart-tracks, and there would have been no conflict between their horse-drawn (or ox-drawn) traffic and the pastured animals, and no great difficulty if pastured animals wandered off the common along the roads. However, these roads now have fast motorised traffic which does not mix safely with animals. To continue (or restore) grazing, such roads may need fencing or at least blocking at the edge of the common with cattle grids — however permission for fencing on a common is a bureaucratic process which can be interrupted or prevented by objectors (see neglect of commons below).

Some commons are managed by Boards of Conservators for the wider public benefit. The Commons Act 2006 provides for the establishment of Commons Councils to manage common land. Those provisions of the Act are not yet in force, but the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) plans to bring them into force in the spring of 2009. The Commons Councils established under the Act will have a similar role to that of existing Conservators.

Royal Forests are legally separate from ordinary commons, but most have a similar commoning system." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_land)