Common Lands cover 1,166,781 hectares (ha) of Great Britain. The types and legal status of commons vary in different countries.
In Scotland there are no central registers of common land. However the extent and distribution of land where there are multiple grazing rights or multiple graziers can be deduced from agricultural returns (Integrated Administration and Control System [IACS] forms). Analysis of such returns in 2009 showed such grazings extended to 591,901ha of Scotland - 7% of its land area, and 15% of its rough pasture. This land is administered under Scottish law which permits most common grazings to be self-regulated.
Scottish common grazings are heavily concentrated on areas with crofting agriculture, found especially along the Atlantic fringes. Common grazing is widespread in Shetland, almost all of the Outer Hebrides, Tiree, Skye and Raasay, and on the coastal mainland from Lochalsh to the Kyles of Sutherland. These areas are geographically-marginal and socially vulnerable, and most are in parishes designated as fragile by Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
The area of land with rights other than grazing (eg turbary and estovers) is unknown.
In England and Wales, with few exceptions all common land and common rights had to be registered in accordance with the Commons Registration Act, 1965. At the end of the registration period, only that land which was registered can be deemed to be common land, and similarly only those rights which were registered can be exercised. These documents, held by local authorities, are conclusive.
In Wales commons cover 173,366 ha, a little over 8% of the total land area. They are found in all parts of the country but there are marked differences between their distribution by number and by area. Over half of the Welsh commons are under 5ha, although together they comprise just 1% of the total common land area. There are 1615 separately registered common land units, and some regions have large numbers of small commons. For example, Pembrokeshire has 280 commons (17% of the total), although these cover just 5,861ha (less than 3% of the common land area of Wales). Most commons are located in the uplands. Large numbers which appear as clusters along the St David’s peninsular, in the Ruabon-Llantysilio mountains of Denbighshire and in the Clwydian Range, often abut each other, and may be managed as integrated units.
When examined by are, the commons of Wales have a highly uneven distribution. The three authority areas of Powys alone comprise 74,653ha, nearly 40% of all the common land in Wales. Brecknock alone has nearly 47,000ha, over 25% of Welsh common land. Other large areas lie in Gwynedd, with 20,692ha (11% of the Welsh total), and Carmarthenshire with 15,358ha (8%). Just 42 sites of over 1000ha make up half of the Welsh common land. The largest registered unit is the Black Mountains of Dyfed, covering 7,500ha. However many separately registered units form contiguous blocks. Twelve such clusters of units cover 91,000ha of common land, with a single block of 24,000ha in the case of the Brecon Beacons.
The Welsh Commons include large areas of grassland, heath, and bracken. There are blanket bogs at Elenydd, Migneint, and Berwyn; raised bog at Cors Fochno near Borth, dunes at Aberffraw in Anglesey, and dry heath in north west Pembrokeshire.
In England there are 372,941ha of registered common land, covering just 3% of the land area. These comprise 7,052 separately registered units. Like Wales, they are found in all areas, and even within towns and cities, but have a very uneven distribution. Half of all the English common land units are under 1ha in size, but these total only 0.3% of the area. The overall picture is that the southern lowlands have large numbers of very small commons, whereas the northern and western uplands have fewer but large sites. Some 35% of all English Common Land is in the North-west Region, with extensive areas in the Lake District. The three northern regions together with the south-west, together account for over 87% of common land by area. In contrast, the East Midlands Region has only 0.3% of the total. Just 89 commons, jointly cover 192,000ha, over 52% of the English common land area. The largest single registered unit is the Forest of Dartmoor at 11,284ha. Again, many commons are contiguous, and managed as larger integrated systems than the registers can imply. The data on area contrast radically with distributions concerning the number of registered commons. For example, the South-east, which has only 6% of common land by area, has 22% of the total number, more than any other region.
Unregistered Commons (exempted from registration under the 1965 Act)
Certain areas, mainly in England, were exempted from registration under the 1965 Act. These included the New Forest, comprising 21,995ha of common land, Epping Forest, at 2,458ha, and certain small areas totaling 1.020ha exempted by Order. The 1965 Act was deemed not to apply to the Forest of Dean (even though commonable grazing has persisted there for centuries) and hence the extent of rights there has never been tested legally. Acts of Parliament allow forestry enclosures of up to 4,400ha in the Dean, therefore always leaving at least 3,100ha, which, whilst not fixed in location, indicate the minimum area available for grazing.
Area of Common Land in Great Britain
Common Land areas in Scotland, Wales and England
|hectares||% land area|
|Registered Common Land|
|Commons exempted from registration|
|Exempted by Order||1,020|
|Forest of Dean||3,100|
|Total Commonable Land in Great Britain||1,166,781||5%|