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Dartmoor Commons (again)

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Ancient rights over the Dartmoor commons include :

Turbary – the right to take turf for fuel
Pannage – the right to allow pigs to eat acorns and beech mast
Estovers – the right to take underwood or branches for fuel and repairs

For hill farmers, the right of grazing – or common pasture – is the most valuable and important of the common rights.

The Commons Registration Act 1965 introduced a system of registration of commons and the rights exercisable over them. This was an attempt to bring some clarity to a confused situation.  Rights which were not registered were extinguished. The loss of rights did not stop some commoners from continuing to exercise rights equivalent to those they and their predecessors had enjoyed historically.

When the provisions of the Commons Act 2006 came into effect in Devon, a question arose as to whether there was an opportunity to register such rights as new rights acquired by prescription over the interim period since the Commons Registration Act came into effect. A number of applications were made and, in its capacity as the Commons Registration Authority for the County, Devon County Council (on advice from Leading Counsel) refused the applications having concluded that it was not possible for new rights to be acquired by prescription over land registered as a common under the 1965 legislation.

That question is now being challenged by way of Judicial Review of the decision of the Commons Registration Authority.  The Court proceedings will no doubt be followed with great interest not only by the commoners of Dartmoor but, as this issue is by no means unique to Devon,  by commoners up and down the country. It is certainly being followed in Cumbria :  Foundation for Common Land – Prescriptive Rights.

Watch this space …!

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