Workshop 1

 Sustainability Workshop 1 : Outcomes and Review

New Models for Sustainable Commons Governance – Summary and Outcomes

The National Trust, Grosvenor Gardens, London, Friday 18th January 2013

Video Available Here

The workshop considered how to promote “sustainable” management by finding ways to balance the competing demands on the modern commons – for recreational, agricultural, ecological economic and environmental uses. Chris Rodgers gave a presentation highlighting the relevance to the day’s workshop theme of the research undertaken by the AHRC Contested Common Land project between 2007-2010. Julia Aglionby (Foundation for Common Land) gave a presentation on the problems of managing upland commons, which included a consideration of the process for establishing a Commons Council for Cumbria under the Commons Act 2006. An extensive consultation exercise had been undertaken between December 2010 and February 2011 involving 29 commons associations in Cumbria, with 387 active graziers, 357 non graziers and 56 land owners. Whether there is “substantial support” is established by reference to CL units, and 59% of those consulted had affirmed support for the Council as proposed. A draft establishment order is being prepared. However, the submission of a draft establishment order (intended in 2014) is not a legal “trigger” for conclusion of the establishment process – the secretary of state is not under a legal duty to respond to it under the 2006 Act. Discussion following the presentation also focussed on the issues around encompassing non agricultural interests in the Commons Council model for governance.

A recurring theme of the presentations and discussion was the diversity and fragmentation of the modern commons – the pressures on large unenclosed upland commons, where agriculture is the primary land use activity, are very different to those on lowland commons, which are often neglected but potentially provide valuable open spaces for recreation. Participants variously had experience of managing both broad types of common land.


  1. Locally mediated management models are absolutely vital if commons are to be governed in a manner that reconciles different – and sometimes competing and conflicting – land uses. Few of the governance models currently used to manage common land adequately capture the many and varied interests in the modern commons or provide a satisfactory mechanism for balancing them and resolving land use disputes.
  2. An ecosystem services approach to commons governance could be highly beneficial – both for the environmental governance of the common itself and for its wider role as a community resource for open air recreation and use. The use of Nature Improvement Areas, for example, could benefit commons because the planning and management focus will be on a larger scale than just the common itself. Environmental influences and land use pressures that impact upon vegetation and wildlife on a common can be captured and managed within a larger focus – the NIA management plan. And the sense of community and belonging that is a major cultural contribution made by the commons may also be impacted by factors beyond the boundaries of the common itself. The cultural and historic contribution made by the commons (their role in creating a “sense of community” in local neighbourhoods) is also integral to the ecosystem services approach in that cultural services are an ecosystem service frequently provided by the commons. The North Pennines LNP was discussed as an example-commons in the area will be part of the new partnership, and this may provide a new springboard for commons governance within a wider management context.
  3. Localism and Local Nature Partnerships. Commons can provide the green space required for establishing local nature partnerships. The potential connectivity of individual commons could also be important in the context of implementing a larger scale ecosystem service – based approach to land use and management. This is a theme that should be explored more fully, especially in the context of creating “new” commons for biodiversity and public recreation. Connectivity has a special significance in the context of promoting biodiversity
  4. Creating “new” commons. The use of the CA 2006 to create new commons could underpin the development of LNPs and act as a springboard for greater community involvement in commons management. Governance models discussed during the workshop included the Land Trust movement, the use of conservation easements and covenants to bring community benefit into land management, community interest companies, and the use of unincorporated management bodies with a wider remit than traditional commoners associations e.g. the Caldbeck executive committee that manages Caldbeck Common in Cumbria, Brancaster commons committee (Norfolk).
  5. Existing landowners may be willing to put land into community management, provided a suitable management model can be applied (such as a Land Trust) that maintains a balance between capturing and promoting the policy interest of the contributor, and those of the community undertaking responsibility for management. A number of mechanisms could also be profitably explored to assist communities themselves to finance the community acquisition of land to be dedicated as “new” commons – including use of the Community Infrastructure Levy to generate funds and participation green infrastructure partnerships.

 Ben Cowell, External Affairs Director, the National Trust

Professor Chris Rodgers, Newcastle Law School, Newcastle University