Contested Commons

Welcome to the Contested Common Land section of the website. The Contested Common Land Project ran from February 2007 to January 2010. Information and resources created by the project are archived on the Contested Common Land ‘Case Studies’, ‘Archived News & Events’, ‘Archived Papers’ and ‘LandNote’ pages.

Contested Common Land: Environmental Governance, Law and Sustainable Land Management, c. 1600-2006

The Contested Common Land Project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Landscape and Environment Programme and brought together environmental lawyers in Newcastle Law School, and historians from Lancaster University with expertise in manorial court archival research, to examine the environmental governance of common land from an interdisciplinary, historical and contemporary perspective. Virtual reality imaging software was developed by the Informatics Research Institute at Newcastle University.

The project undertook:

  • an examination of the management of common land since the 17th century using historical methods of enquiry. This involved the legal mechanisms for regulating land use and the principles applied to the governance of common land e.g. through the former manorial court system.
  • an examination of modern governance mechanisms and the emergence of sustainable land management as a discrete objective for the future of our Commons.

Case Studies

The research project placed the sustainable management of commons in historical perspective by using four case studies to illustrate the changing patterns of land use, differing management principles and regulatory mechanisms applied to common land from c.1600 to the modern day. These were drawn from Commons in Cumbria (Eskdale), North Norfolk (Brancaster and Thornham), North Yorkshire (Ingleton), and Powys (Elan and Claerwen Valleys). To visit the case study pages, which include background information, research papers and photo galleries, please follow this link: Case Studies.

Project Papers

The project generated numerous research papers, written by members of the project team and by visiting speakers.  The archive includes over 30 such papers, which are freely accessible.  To see the papers, please follow this link: Archived Papers.


LandNote was an online tool which provided interactive maps for each of our case study areas. It was created as part of the Contested Common Land Project.  Each case study site includes common, manor, and area designation (e.g. SSSI) boundaries; commentaries on historic rights, ownership, and management; and information on contemporary environmental governance.  Each case study area also has key themes, such as the ‘Farms and Flocks’ and ‘Eskdale Twenty-Four Book’ pages for Eskdale, or the ‘Landscape Legacy’ pages for Ingleborough and Scales Moor. LandNote uses Google Earth as its base map: the site is designed to perform using the Google Earth 3-D Plug-In, and it performs best if viewed through the Mozilla Firefox browser. Please note that some functions may now be limited. To visit LandNote please follow this link: LandNote.

Project Team

The project team comprised: Professor Christopher Rodgers (Principal Investigator, Newcastle Law School) and Margherita Pieraccini (formerly Project PhD Student, Newcastle Law School; now Lecturer in Law at University of Bristol); Professor Angus Winchester (Co-Investigator) and Dr. Eleanor Straughton (Research Associate) of the Department of History, Lancaster University; and Dr. Patrick Olivier (Co-Investigator) and Dan Jackson at the Informatics Research Institute, Newcastle University.

Project Book

‘Contested Common Land: Environmental Governance Past and Present’

By C. P. Rodgers, E. A. Straughton, A. J. L. Winchester and M. Pieraccini

Publisher: Earthscan, London,
ISBN: 9781849710947
Publication date: 2011

This book draws on the Contested Common Land team’s research findings, following three years of intensive research. It explores legal, cultural and environmental aspects of common land governance in England and Wales since 1600. To order a copy and read recommendations by the late Professor Elinor Ostrom (Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences 2009) and by Professor Stephen Daniels (Director, AHRC Landscape and Environment Programme), please visit the Earthscan page.