Ambitious bid to create new 21st century commons for Norfolk
- Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021
New commons should be created in Norfolk, providing havens for wildlife and much needed public spaces for people, a charity has said.
Norfolk Wildlife Trust this week published a study which considers the strengths and weaknesses of the potential for new commons - and how they could be created.
Norfolk currently has more than 300 registered commons, ranging in size from tiny fragments to several hectares, such as the trust's nature reserve at New Buckenham Common.
And, following a two-year National Lottery Heritage-funded project working in partnership with the University of East Anglia and Norfolk County Council, the trust hopes ways can be found to create new commons in the county.
Defining common land is complicated, but historically, it was where certain people had rights over land they did not own.
The Commons Registration Act of 1965 required common land and common rights to be registered, with the registers for each county held by local authorities. That has been updated by subsequent legislation.
But, common land is rooted in Norfolk's history and the wildlife trust says there are opportunities for more to be created.
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They say new commons, for the 21st century, could be created as part of new housing developments and new commons registered, with people having meaningful rights over them.
The report says that could include people being able to coppice them, to provide small timber, to graze livestock, to harvest hay or for community orchards.
There would be a need to balance wildlife, public access and potentially grazing through design and long-term management, with divisions between areas where dogs can run free, children can play and areas for wildlife to be relatively undisturbed.
Helen Baczkowska, conservation officer at Norfolk Wildlife Trust, who is herself a Norfolk commons rights-holder, said: "Back in the day every parish in Norfolk would have had its own common. Many people in Norfolk feel passionately about commons as the places they walk, seek solace and enjoy encounters with wildlife.
“A new common will be a public open space firmly rooted in the historic landscape of an area, providing a place for ‘fresh air and exercise’ and perhaps designed to look very like existing local commons.
“It will be part of the ecological network of an area and have wildlife habitats that play a part in carbon capture, as well as creating a new space for wildlife.
“With such connection to history, wildlife and communities, our project led to consideration and conversations with Norfolk County Council about the possibility of creating new commons in Norfolk.”
The trust is running a series of events to promote the idea to local authorities and communities interested in establishing new commons. Email email@example.com to find out more.
This week is Norfolk Commons Week. Details of events taking place are at www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/whats-on/commons-week