Common land in the Brecon Beacons

Sheep grazing on common land in the Brecon Beacons © NPTL/Paul Harris

Sheep grazing on common land in the Brecon Beacons

The wide, open spaces known as upland commons are an important part of the landscape in the Brecon Beacons, Powys. They give visitors unrestricted access to some of our most beautiful and wild landscapes, but they are also incredibly important to local farmers, and have been for centuries.

What is common land?

Unenclosed commons are a remnant of the Norman manorial system. It was land the lord of the manor didn't want so he allowed his villagers to use it for raising sheep, cattle and pigs. Villagers were also able to take firewood, turf and peat, collect gravel, and even fish the rivers in some cases. These allowances were called 'commoners rights'.

Who owns the land?

There's often a misconception that no-one owns common land, or that it's in the ownership of everyone.

In fact, common land is always privately owned - just as it was owned by the lord of the manor under the Normans. But local farmers have the right to graze it. These grazing rights are crucial to the survival of small hill sheep farms. Farmers depend heavily upon their legal access to the common for summer grazing so they can harvest hay or silage crops for winter feed on their land lower down in the valleys.

Farmers with a right to use common land are called commoners.

How much common land is there?

There are 175,000ha of common land in Wales and it's important for nature conservation, supporting semi-natural vegetation. Much of this land is designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). 

We own 3,327ha of common land on the central Brecon Beacons where the surrounding farmers graze sheep, cattle and ponies on the slopes of Pen y Fan, Corn Du and Cribyn.