Guidance

Common land and town or village greens: how a claim of ownership can affect the land

Find out if a claim of ownership by adverse possession can be made on common land and town or village greens, what effect it will have on the land and whether a claim can be opposed.

Overview

A squatter can be registered as the owner of common land or town or village greens (TVGs) by adverse possession of the land if the:

  • current owner doesn’t challenge the claim of ownership
  • squatter has occupied the land for at least 10 years before they make a claim of ownership

Any change in ownership doesn’t affect the status of the land as registered common land or TVG.

A successful claim of ownership doesn’t affect people who have rights to use or take resources from the common land or TVG. A ‘commoner’ can use their rights at any time, whoever owns the land. See commoners’ rights for more details.

When a claim for ownership can be made for common land or TVG

If the landowner is registered

A claim can be made for ownership of a common or TVG that’s been recorded on the title register held by the Land Registry if the squatter has occupied the land for at least 10 years and either:

  • continues to occupy the land without objection by the registered owner
  • has made a claim within 6 months of being evicted by the registered owner (where applicable)

See the Land Registry guide for more information.

If the landowner isn’t registered

Where land ownership hasn’t been recorded on the title register held by the Land Registry, a squatter can claim ownership of common land or TVG if, for at least 12 years, they show:

  • they were acting as if they were the owner of the land eg putting up fences without consent
  • an intention to possess land
  • possession without owner’s consent

See the Land Registry guide for more information.

Difficulties with a claim of ownership of common land

If a squatter puts up fencing to exclude a commoner, known as ‘factual possession’, there are a number of difficulties in being able to claim adverse possession over the land.

Under the Commons Act 2006, it’s difficult for a squatter to show factual possession of a common because the land can’t lawfully:

  • be enclosed without consent for the work from the Secretary of State
  • exclude the public or commoners

However, unlawful works aren’t a criminal offence so it may be possible for the squatter to show factual possession of registered common land, including those under the jurisdiction of a local authority that are:

Factual possession is more difficult or even impossible to show on certain commons because they’re protected from adverse possession by being:

  • regulated by their own act of Parliament eg Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act 1871
  • owned by a body, such as the National Trust and declared as ‘inalienable land’ ie land that can’t be bought, sold or transferred to a new owner without permission from Parliament
  • subject to orders for regulation under the Commons Act 1876 and can’t be enclosed

Difficulties with a claim of ownership of TVGs

You can’t use certain activities to claim ownership of a TVG by adverse possession because it’s a criminal offence to:

  • put up a fence or carry out works unless it improves the enjoyment of the TVG for visitors
  • create private car parking
  • interfere with, or prevent recreation

See section 29 of the Commons Act 1876 and section 12 of the Inclosure Act 1857 for more details.

You may, however, be able to legally claim adverse possession of a TVG to carry out improvements or safety works, such as mowing the grass or removing unsafe trees. Talk to your legal adviser for more information.

Oppose a claim of adverse possession

If the landowner is registered

An owner of common land or a TVG recorded by the Land Registry can oppose a claim of adverse possession, unless the squatter can establish one of 3 conditions:

  • it’s unfair to dispossess the squatter
  • there’s some other entitlement to be registered
  • there’s adjacent land owned by the squatter, where the boundary hasn’t been determined for at least 10 years

See Land Registration Act 2000: schedule 6, paragraph 5 for more details.

If the landowner isn’t registered

An owner of common land or TVG not recorded by the Land Registry can oppose a claim of adverse possession, unless the squatter can show that for at least 12 years they:

  • were acting as if they were the owner of the land
  • had an intention to possess the land
  • possessed the land without the recorded owner’s consent
Published 14 October 2015