Common land in Europe
A thousand years ago, most of Europe’s pastureland would have been used by more than one farmer – they were common lands of some sort, shared by members of a certain community or the vassals of a certain lord, for example.
Over the following centuries, many of these were privatised in some way – shared out between large farmers, for example. One significant motivation from the 18th century onward was the introduction of ‘Agricultural Revolution’ techniques to increase production; semi-natural common land was converted over the years to improved grassland or even arable land.
Despite these historic pressures, a surprising area of common land survives in Europe. In more productive landscapes, for example in southern England, common land makes up a large proportion of the remaining semi-natural pasture land. In more marginal areas, especially in the uplands or on the coast, by no means all unimproved land is used in common, but common land is a very important factor in HNV farming systems.
The same legal and social factors which allowed semi-natural vegetation to survive on common land - that make common land HNV farmland – also mean extra costs and impediments for the graziers, who have to deal in many cases with extra regulation and administration and in all cases with their fellow graziers.
The legal and administrative frameworks for common land vary hugely between different regions: land may be jointly owned by the graziers, or by a private landowner or the local or national government; graziers may use the land as of right or under a grazing contract; common pastures may be fully integrated into official ‘agricultural land’ or may be classed as ‘forest’; and so on. In the CAP, there is no recognition of common land per se and in general the needs of common land graziers are not taken into consideration when CAP and other reforms are being introduced. Graziers in every country think their problems are unique, but in fact there are many shared issues.
The significance of common land for HNV farming is recognised by EFNCP. We are working on:
- Irish commonage case studies
- Trends in common grazing in Scotland
- Delivering public policy on commons - IASC Plovdiv conference session
- State of Commoning in Wales