Protection afforded to areas of common land

A summary of the Acts of Parliament that help protect common land.

Oxfordshire has about 1.8 square kilometres of registered village green and 9 square kilometres of registered common land. 

Common land is usually in private ownership, with rights of common over it. Members of the public now have a right of access on foot to nearly all Registered Common Land areas under rights bestowed through the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. This access on foot is in addition to any public rights of way across the common, or any other existing rights. However, there are still some commons which are excluded from the new rights of access, including those in private gardens.

See the Open Access pages of the Natural England website for more information. Further information about our role as Access Authority for areas of open access land is available on our open access land web page.

Our role as Commons Registration Authority.


Read summaries of the most relevant Acts here.

The Law of Property Act 1925 (Section 194)

Under this Section, it is unlawful to construct buildings, erect fences, or carry out any other works which prevent access to common land unless the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has given permission. This applies to all commons (and village greens) which had rights of common over them on 1st January 1926. In deciding whether or not to give permission, the Secretary of State has to take into account the benefits to the neighbourhood and to any private interests in the land.

This section does not apply to works authorised by Acts of Parliament, the winning and working of minerals, or any telegraphic line as defined in the Telegraphic Act, 1878. A Section 194 application to the Secretary of State would need to be made in addition to any normal planning application to the local planning authority which might be necessary. Application forms are available from:

The Commons Team
The Planning Inspectorate
3F Temple Quay House
2 The Square
Temple Quay
Tel. 0303 444 5408

Where permission has not been obtained and works have been carried out, an application may be made to the county court by either the owner of the land, the commoners, or a county or district council for the removal of the works and restoration of the land to its original condition. A right of appeal against any decision of the court exists.

The Law of Commons Amendment Act 1893 (Section 2)

Any inclosure or approvement of a common (removal of common rights and enclosure of the land) is not lawful unless the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has granted permission. In deciding whether or not to give permission, the Secretary of State will consider the proposal in relation to the benefit to the neighbourhood, why it is necessary to use the common land, the number of common rights exercised over the land, and what sufficiency there is for exercise of rights (i.e. is the land currently capable of supporting more grazing rights than there are being exercised).

National Trust Acts 1907 (Section 29) and 1971 (Section 23)

Section 29 of the 1907 Act requires the National Trust to keep all commons or commonable land open and unbuilt on as open spaces for the recreation and enjoyment of the public. There are some exemptions for certain works or improvements to promote the enjoyment of such land. Section 23 requires the Secretary of State's permission to be given for any buildings or other works on National Trust owned commons or commonable land if public access to is likely to be prevented or impeded. Some works of improvement to permit better public enjoyment of such land are exempted.

Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 (Section 23)

This enables councils to ban the siting of caravans for human occupation on common land. It does not apply to urban commons (those to which the public have legal access), commons subject to a scheme of management, or land where a site licence is in force.

Road Traffic Act 1988 (Section 34)

This makes it unlawful for a person to drive a motor vehicle on any common land (as well as some other types of land ) without lawful authority (usually, this would be the permission of the landowner). It is not an offence to drive on land in emergency situations. Nor is it an offence under the Act to drive within fifteen yards of the road to park the vehicle on land. However, in the case of common land, byelaws preventing driving or parking may apply. Parking or driving of a vehicle on the land without the landowner's permission would also constitute trespass.

Vehicular access over common land and village greens

Following the repeal of Section 68 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 200, DEFRA have provided up-to-date non statutory guidance on vehicular access over Common Land and Village Greens.

Vehicular access across Common Land and Town and Village Greens - Non statutory guidance note (pdf format, 64 KB)