A THREE-YEAR, £3m project is underway to help secure the future of upland commons in England, including Brant Fell, Grassington Moor and Ingleborough in the Yorkshire Dales.

This is pivotal time for commons as agriculture and land management undergo seismic change, says Adrian Shepherd, head of land management at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, one of 25 partners backing the project. “At risk of disappearing is the tradition of commoning which brings many benefits for people; the project will work to secure and enhance those benefits for the good of all.”

Just 3% (400,000 hectares) of land in England is common land over which individuals, commoners, have rights, including to graze livestock, a feature of many upland farms adjoining common land. Commons are owned by a local council, privately or by organisations.

‘Our Upland Commons’, made possible by a major £1.9 million grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, is led by the Foundation for Common Land. Its executive director Julia Aglionby, who lives in the Eden Valley, Cumbria says: “Commoning has given rise to the centuries old practice of shared land management giving us many good things including food, water, access to nature, green space and heritage. It can also help meet 21st century challenges, from nature recovery to flood management, carbon storage and wellbeing.

“But there are serious threats to commons and commoning and we could lose these rare landscapes and the benefits they bring - now and, in the future.The Our Uplands Commons project is all about helping commoners adapt and survive as well as growing the public’s enjoyment of, and respect for, commons and commoning,” she adds.

Claire Hodgson, the project’s Yorkshire Dales officer, says “I’ll be working with commoners, conservation organisations, volunteers and the public to build on the collaborative tradition of commoning to demonstrate how farming and nature can work together to produce the food, landscapes, and habitats we all know and love. Commons are brimming with nature, history and culture.

“You are seven times more likely to find common land has a special nature designation, four times more likely to find an ancient monument and about half (39%) of free access land in England is on common land. And 28% of the Yorkshire Dales National Park is common land. It’s vital that we recognise and protect our upland commons. And now thanks to National Lottery players and grants from Esmée Fairbairn and Garfield Weston Foundations and the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust amongst others action is being taken to help secure their future.”