Common Law Land Rights: Where Can I Graze My Cow?

13th July, 2017, in Land Law, Common Land, Land Disputes.


The rights, of common people or commoners, were known as ‘rights in common’. You might know the land as ‘common land’ although strictly speaking it is the ‘rights’ which are common, not the land which is usually privately owned.

Common Law Land Rights, Right To Pasture

If people did things on land, private land, over a very long period of time many of those rights remained, persisted and even became codified and protected by later laws.

These rights are of pasture (to graze particular listed types of animal), of estovers (to cut and take wood, gauze and other hedges), or turbary (digging turf or peat for fuel), soil (to take sand gravel, stone, coal) and piscary (to fish from ponds or streams).

In 2007 a Cambridge local vet Angelika von Heimendahl, after investigating those rights, introduced a herd of eight Red Poll steers to Midsummer Common in Cambridge. Right in the centre of Cambridge’s one way system and butting up to Jesus Green the distinctively ‘red’ looking cows became a distinctive sight in Cambridge.

You can find a list in a spread sheet of the rights here for the land near you in the Commons Register 2000. Simply search for the land near to you.

You can also find a terrific overview at the National Archives here which we hope will show that this is not always a straight forward area of law and that land uses and rights and even the areas they occupy change over time. It has links to some great sources and interest groups.

These are good places to start but you would do well to do some proper research first, before you start helping yourself to the local fish!

Do we really need to say don’t take this article as legal advice? There we go, we just did!

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