The common land of England and Wales is an important common resource with multiple, and often conflicting, uses. It provides some of the most ecologically sensitive environments and landscapes, is an important agricultural resource and provides public access to the countryside for recreation. Much common land is degraded and is subject to competing interests: farming, intense recreational use and conservation.
This unique book brings together original historical investigations from four centuries and contemporary legal scholarship to examine the environmental governance of common land from an interdisciplinary perspective. It uses four case studies of common land, and the challenges presented by its sustainable management, to illustrate these themes – from the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, North Norfolk coast and the Cambrian Mountains. These demonstrate that cultural assumptions concerning the value of common land have changed across the centuries, with profound consequences for the law, land management, the legal expression of concepts of 'property' and the exercise of common rights. The 'stakeholders' of today are the inheritors of this complex cultural legacy, and must negotiate diverse and sometimes conflicting objectives in their pursuit of a potentially unifying goal: a secure future for the commons.
Contested Common Land also has considerable contemporary relevance. It provides a timely contribution to discussions surrounding the implementation of the Commons Act of 2006. This Act has introduced a new legal framework for the governance of common land by self-regulating commons councils. The case studies set this this within the wider context of institutional scholarship on the governance principles for successful common pool resource management, and the rejection of the 'tragedy of the commons'.
1. Introduction: Common Land as a Contested Resource
Part I: Custom, Property Rights and Sustainable Management
2. Custom and the Culture of the Commons
3. 'That our Common moore be not wronged': sustainable land management in an historical context
4. Property Rights in the Modern Commons
5. Contemporary Governance of the Commons: the quest for sustainability
Part II: Commons in Focus: Four case studies
6. Eskdale, Cumbria
7. Ingleborough and Scales Moor, North Yorkshire
8. Elan Valley, Powys
9. Brancaster and Thornham, Norfolk
10. Sustainable Commons: Reflections on History, Law and Governance
Cases and Legislation
Chris Rodgers is Professor of Law at Newcastle University, UK. His publications include Agricultural Law (3rd edition 2008), three edited collections on nature conservation and land use law, and numerous articles on agriculture and environmental law in the legal journals. He is Editor in Chief of the Environmental Law Review.
Eleanor Straughton is Research Associate in the Department of History, Lancaster University, UK. Her doctoral research on the more recent history of common land management was published as Common Grazing in the Northern English Uplands 1800-1965 (Lampeter, 2008).
Angus Winchester is Senior Lecturer in History at Lancaster University, UK. His publications include The Harvest of the Hills: Rural Life in Northern England and the Scottish Borders, 1400-1700 (Edinburgh, 2000), a study of pre-modern hill farming on common land.
Margherita Pieraccini is lecturer in law at the University of Exeter, UK. She was formerly the project Doctoral Student on the AHRC Contested Commons research project at Newcastle University. She has published several articles on the environmental governance of the modern commons, in an Italian and English context.
"Chris Rodgers and his co-authors have brought together important research [...] They show that 'modernizing' common law institutions that evolved over time can change ownership rights and duties in unexpected ways. For sustainability questions we have to study more systems over time as this important collection of studies illustrates."
– Elinor Ostrom, Indiana University, USA, and joint Winner of the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences 2009
"Contested Common Land exemplifies collaborative, multi-disciplinary landscape research at its finest: field and archival, contemporary and historical, comparative and local, scholarly and publically engaged. Both rigorous and imaginative, the book shines a new light on English and Welsh commons and the landscape more widely. The project team reveal their rich and remarkably resilient history as a working country in the face of periodical challenges, with the capacity for a new lease of life in a wider, international, world concerned with sustainability. With complementary expertise, the authors show that common land is a topical as well as traditional place, a diverse and dynamic social and environmental resource, a repository of complex uses and values, a living landscape that demands careful cultural appreciation as well as effective conservation and practical management."
– Stephen Daniels, Director, AHRC Landscape and Environment programme, UK
"Ambitiously conceived, and flawlessly presented, this book should be read by all policy-formers and those engaged in the management of commons, as well as anyone with an interest in rural history, the interface of common and statutory law, or awareness of the global principles underlying shared resource management. It deserves to remain on their shelves permanently, as a source of reference and inspiration."
– Graham Bathe, Principal Project Manager, Natural England
"The work is a timely contribution of interest to a wide readership concerned with issues of environmental sustainability, the evolution of institutional governance systems, the history of English and Welsh commons and our historic landscape more generally."
– Agricultural History Review