Our Common Cause: Our Upland Commons

This is a new project which aims to support the centuries-old heritage of upland commons in four of England’s most significant cultural landscapes.   Enabling collaborative management, reconnecting people with commons and improving public benefits.

Our Common Cause is being managed by the Foundation for Common Land on behalf of a broad partnership of organisations.  The Shropshire Hills is one of four upland landscapes involved.  Working together with Dartmoor, the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, we will address the viability of commoning and the value of commons to society.

Clee Liberty common

Clee Liberty Common

Follow the link for more information, or contact Catherine Landles, 01743 254742, or email cath.landles@shropshire.gov.uk

Our Common Cause map

Our Common Cause is supported by a Partnership of 23 organisations, who are listed at www.foundationforcommonland.org.uk. The Project is convened by the Foundation for Common Land, with the National Trust as the Accountable Body. The Project has funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, alongside funding from our partners, for a Development Stage between January 2018 and October 2019.

 

What are Commons, how do they work and why do they matter?

Common land has its origins in our ancient history and is managed collectively – by “commoners” who are often, but not always farmers. They have the right to graze sheep, cattle, horses or pigs. Each common has its own group of commoners, with the grazing rights usually linked to their home farm and often passing down through generations of the same family.

Long Mynd Long Synalds Heather & Mist compressedCommon land is not owned by the commoners but by someone else – a local council, another farmer, the Lord of the Manor or a utilities company. For example, the National Trust owns 60,000 ha of common land in England and Wales.

Wimbledon Common is one you may have heard of, and commons account for 3% of all land in England with some of our most iconic mountains being commons e.g. Helvellyn and Blencathra. Here in the Shropshire Hills AONB, some of our most iconic landscape features are also commons, including the Long Mynd and Stiperstones.

As well as being a vital resource for farmers, commons are important for wildlife, are often valuable historic sites, and are somewhere that people can get outside and enjoy the fresh air, as everyone has a right to walk on commons.

But, as with many traditional farming practices, commoning (farmers using their grazing rights) is in decline; and as a result, commons’ natural and cultural heritage is being lost.

 

What will Our Common Cause: Our Upland Commons do?

This new project will look at ways to make commons more relevant to 21st century life; we’ll help people to discover and enjoy them, we’ll support owners and commoners in managing them to safeguard their history and the wildlife that depends on them, and we’ll look at ways to help make commoning more viable for future generations.Long Mynd ponies by Phil King

We have funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop a £2.7m scheme covering 12 commons across the Shropshire Hills, Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District and Dartmoor. The three participating commons here in the Shropshire Hills are the Long Mynd, Stiperstones and Clee Liberty.

We would be interested to hear what’s important to you about these commons, any issues you feel need addressing and any project ideas you might have.

Hopefully we’ll get the go ahead on the final proposals in autumn 2019 and the project will be delivered between 2020 –2023. We hope these 12 sites will be just the start of a commons revival across England.

 

Introducing Tom Lloyd, commoner on the Long Mynd

I was born on to the family farm at Minton on the southern edge of Long Mynd. Since finishing education I have worked on the farm, farming sheep and beef cattle like my father and his father before him.Tom on quad

We generally run two flocks of sheep, one of which is predominantly lowland, these remain on the farm itself. The other is a hill flock which we graze on the Long Mynd using our grazing rights attributed to the farm here at Minton.

Our Long Mynd sheep are a self-replacing, *hefted flock of Welsh Mountain sheep. All the ewes in the flock have been born and reared on the Long Mynd itself and all of them have deep rooted ancestry here on the Long Mynd.

Working with this flock of sheep along with having a working relationship with the hill itself is a particular highlight of my job and being a commoner.

The most dominant job on the calendar currently is shearing, starting with our lowland ewes first and ending with the Long Mynd flock. The harsher environment and hardier breed means sheep on the Long Mynd won’t shear until mid-July.

flock sheepWith shearing on the Long Mynd comes the task of gathering all of our ewes with their lambs off the hill, this makes for a big job. With no internal fences on the Long Mynd we have to bunch our sheep together with a team of dogs and drive them through the valleys, often in hot conditions and thick stands of bracken, back to the farm. Two days later and minus their wool, the sheep are returned to the hill.

*Hefting, which Tom mentions in his article, refers to the ancient practice of habituating sheep to a location so they stay there without much need for fencing. The natural instinct of ewes to stay within their home range is passed down the generations, with experienced ewes teaching their lambs where the flock’s grazing boundaries are. Sheep born and bred on a particular heft also learn where the good grazing is, where to shelter and where to cross streams. All this makes hefted sheep a valuable asset and they are often sold together with a farm.

 

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