A THREE-YEAR, £3m project is underway, helping to secure the future of upland commons in England

Logo: Foundation for Common Land

By Emma Dewhurst (Ten Stories) PR and comms support for the project

Farmers and their dogs walking on a frosted common on a winter morning
The project aims to support resilient commoning. Farmers come together to gather sheep from common land on Ingleborough (Rob Fraser)

At the heart of England’s most loved and visited places are commons. A three-year, £3 million project, ‘Our Common Cause: Our Upland Commons’ is working hard to secure their future. The focus is on 12, in the Yorkshire Dales, Lake District, Shropshire Hills and Dartmoor. Concluding next summer (2024), and with 25 partners, many national, it’s already delivering results. And proving that common land is vital for nature, archaeology, climate, wetlands, trees and access, alongside livestock production. You can find out more by getting into the nitty gritty of surveys and reports, zooming into an area that interests you or discover commons stories.

FIRST enshrined in law in the Magna Carta, and once making up nearly half of Britain, now only 3% of land in England is common land. It’s fabulously special land, with delicate ecosystems and important archaeology, which we can all access and enjoy.

Common land has 21% of all Sites of Scientific Interest, 12% of all Scheduled Ancient Monuments and 40% of all Open Access land. Furthermore, the centuries old farming practices, are unexpectedly relevant to many 21st century challenges – delivering nature recovery, flood management, carbon sequestration and wellbeing.

Group of men digging an old roman road in the middle of a field with a large hill in the background.
An expert led volunteer dig, depend understanding of England’s highest Roman road, High Street, on common land in the Lake District. (LDNPA)

But this land management system is under threat. Leaving the EU has led to the biggest disruption to the way common land is managed in 70 years. It has put the economic viability of commoning further into question because of changes to government support and trade deals. More frequent extreme weather events, arising from climate change, place the heritage of the commons at risk, and biodiversity continues to decline. Children are accessing nature less too; missing out on all the benefits of greenspaces.

The Our Upland Commons project aims include:

  • Encouraging more diverse communities to enjoy nature and connect with the commons closest to them.
  • Helping everyone to understand the multiple benefits that come from commons and the importance of the commoning system.
  • Sharing skills that will enable and empower commoners to increase carbon storage, protect historic sites, enhance wildlife and habitats, and maintain the ancient practice of commoning.
  • Equipping participating organisations so they can better secure this heritage over the long-term.

The project team is working with commoners and lots of other people to produce ‘commons visions’ – a way of mapping out and delivering for the public, heritage and nature. For example:

  • Farmer-led habitat assessments, help commoners better understand and manage nature, carbon and water.
  • Creating a commons-proofed farm carbon calculator, and providing training, means commoners can map and monitor public benefits on their commons.
  • Improving flock and herd health through nutrition and disease control.
  • Helping commoners to access funding through a series of ‘ELM Readiness’ events.


A group of people all holding out a plug of moss into the centre of a close circle
A community group from Plymouth made and planted plugs of spaghnum moss, Harford Moor. Part of a multi-agency effort to restore spring mires (Jim Wileman)

Work is also in place to improve heritage and nature on commons. This includes trailing new methods of Molina control and natural flood management, as well as Whinchat monitoring and management, spring mire and peat restoration. There are initiatives to protect scheduled ancient monuments and improve bracken management for birds, butterflies and commoning systems.

The project is also working hard to reconnect the public with the natural and cultural heritage of common land. It’s helping 480 children to complete their John Muir Award on commons, and in recent months whole communities have been working on species monitoring, restoration and learned more about commons through public events.

A Pearl-bordered Fritillary Butterfly resting on a flower
A survey in the Lakes found Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries and a citizen science project, in the Shropshire Hills, could help reverse its fortunes (Mike Williams)

Across all of the projects, the team is harnessing the expertise of commoners, who often know their local sites better than anyone, to find collaborative approaches that work for farming, nature and heritage.

All this has been made possible by funding from National Lottery players, grants from Esmée Fairbairn and Garfield Weston Foundations. Plus local funders.

The project is backed by a partnership of 25 organisations. They are: Cumbria Wildlife Trust, Dartmoor Commoners’ Council, Dartmoor National Park Authority, Devon Wildlife Trust, Duchy of Cornwall, Dartmoor Preservation Association, Federation of Cumbria Commoners, Foundation for Common Land, Friends of the Lake District, Heather Trust, Lake District National Park Authority, Moorland Association, National Farmers’ Union, National Sheep Association, National Trust, Natural England, Open Spaces Society, RSPB, Shropshire Hills AONB Partnership, Shropshire Wildlife Trust, South West Water, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, University of Cumbria.

For further information visit project host, the Foundation for Common Land’s website and go to the ‘Our Upland Commons’ tab: You can also sign up for a quarterly newsletter or follow the twitter feed of @4CommonLand which will flag up details of FREE webinars.

Logo: Our Common Cause Our Upland Commons
Logo: Made possible with The Heritage Fund

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Posted On: 09/02/2023

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