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Commons and Town and Village Greens

Dorset County Council is the Commons Registration Authority for the county of Dorset. We compile, maintain and, if appropriate, amend the registers of commons and town and village greens. We do not normally become involved in the management of commons or the enforcement or protection of rights of common, unless we happen also to be the owners of those commons, or manage them by agreement.

Common land

Common land is unique. It is historical land, which has remained largely undisturbed through the centuries, a remnant of medieval times when people relied on commons for their survival. It is land where the owners of nearby properties have rights to graze animals, collect wood and bracken or dig peat for example. Those rights still exist, although are not exercised as they were in the past.

There are 1.3 million acres of common land in England and Wales, registered in over 9,000 separate units covering all types of landscape and habitat. 88 per cent of all commons in England have a national or international designation - for wildlife, landscape or archaeology.

The public has the right to walk on all registered commons, subject to certain restrictions, and on many commons there is also a right to ride.

What is common land?

Common land is land subject to the rights of other people or is waste land of the manor, examples of rights of common include the following

  • The right to pasture cattle, horses, sheep or other animals (Pasture)

  • The right to fish (Piscary)

  • The right to take sod of turf for fuel (Turbary)

  • The right to extract minerals, sand, gravel etc (Common in the Soil)

  • The right to turn out pigs (Pannage)

  • The right to take wood (Estovers)

Who owns common land?

All common land has an owner, whether it is a local authority, the National Trust or private individual.

What sort of land is common land?

Common land covers all types of landscape and habitat, from the moors of Dartmoor to the fells of the Lake District, the mountains of Snowdonia, the Surrey Heaths and the Norfolk coast.

What rights do the public have on common land?

The public has the right to walk on all commons where previously there was no legal access, under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. Some commons already had a right for the public before that act and those rights persist. For example, on many commons, there is a right to ride horses under section 193 of the Law of Property Act 1925.

Is common land protected?

If anyone wants to erect a work on common land, they must apply for the consent of the Secretary of State for Environment, in addition to any planning or other consent that is required.

How do I find out whether the land is common land?

All common land is recorded on registers held by the relevant county or unitary council, and these are open to the public.

Public access to registered commons

Contrary to popular belief, there was no historic public right of access to common land. However, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 now allows a public right of access on foot over most registered commons.

Inspecting the Registers

Until we are able to present the information online, the only way to check whether land is registered as a common or town or village green is to inspect the original registers held at Dorset County Council, County Hall, Dorchester.

A question about commons is included in Part II of Form Con 29 which can be used if you are buying land.

Alternatively you can inspect the register in person or use our search service, which costs £35 + VAT. Include a map showing the area of land in which you are interested and a cheque payable to 'Dorset County Council'.

For further information please contact Highway Searches.

  • Changing and correcting the Registers

    Under certain circumstances it is now possible to apply to correct the register of Common Land and Town and Village Greens. If you believe that any land or buildings may have been incorrectly registered as common land or as a village green, details of the circumstances under which you can apply and how to apply to correct the register can be found below.

  • Fees and applications to amend the Registers

    Details of associated fees and applications to amend the Registers of commons and town and village greens.

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