Scale and scope
About 1.5 million hectares of the land in Britain and Ireland are classified as common land and the map (insert map) indicates the broad distribution of commons grazing. There are about 2500 registered commons in England alone with some 1200 in Wales and over 800 in Scotland.
As well as the extensive pastoral grazing commons of Northern and SW England and upland Wales, the diversity of the resource includes the woodland areas of the New Forest and the Forest of Dean as well as coastal marshes and some commons close to urban centres such as Town Moor Newcastle.
Significance and diversity
88% of commons in England and Wales lie within designated sites of national and international importance including designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC).
The custom of widespread access to common land in many parts of the country has proved a great attraction for visitors and an influence on the rural economy.
The patterns of wall enclosure in Wales, communal gathers in Cumbria, the rare breeds that thrive on commons, hefting systems and local shows all demonstrate a continuity from Viking times and the cultural significance of commons.
With the trend to sustainable farming and traceable provenance, meat from traditionally farmed livestock is seeing a growing demand as are other public goods.
Rights and ownership
Some of the first English legislation, back in 1285, covered the governance of commons. The current commons landowners include conservation organisations such as the National Trust, public bodies like the National Park Authorities, companies such as United Utilities and private individuals.