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Farmers on Ingleborough by Rob Fraser (Somewhere Nowhere)

Our Upland Commons

Our Upland Commons Project

Our Upland Commons Project is three-year, £3 million 25-partner project helping to secure the future of upland commons in the Yorkshire Dales, Dartmoor, Lake District and Shropshire Hills. It’s led by the Foundation for Common land.

12 commons are involved, including 3 in the Yorkshire Dales.

  • Brant Fell (grid ref SD661966)
  • Grassington Moor (grid ref SE028667)
  • Ingleborough Common (grid ref SD747729).

The project has been made possible by grants from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, from the Garfield Weston Foundation and other local funders.

Walker on Brant Fell Common with a dog on a lead during the start of lambing
Walker with her dog on Brant Fell Common 📸 Rob Fraser (Somewhere Nowhere)

The Our Upland Commons Project aims include:

  1. Encouraging more diverse communities to enjoy nature and connect with the commons
    closest to them.
  2. Helping everyone to understand the multiple benefits that come from commons and the
    importance of the commoning system.
  3. Sharing skills that will enable and empower commoners to increase carbon storage, protect
    historic sites, enhance wildlife and habitats, and maintain the ancient practice of commoning.
  4. Equipping participating organisations so they can better secure this heritage over the

Download an explanatory leaflet here.

Will Dawson, Ingleborough commoner with his two dogs Bette and Jill.
Will Dawson, Ingleborough commoner with his two dogs Bette and Jill. 📸 Rob Fraser (Somewhere Nowhere)

Common Land and Commoning

First enshrined in law in the Magna Carta in 1215, Common Land traditionally sustained the poorest people in rural communities who owned no land of their own, providing them with a source of wood, bracken for bedding and pasture for livestock. Over one-third of England’s moorland is common land.

Commoning involves a group of farmers – from one or two to over 100 – having “commoners rights” to graze their animals (mostly sheep) on a shared piece of land – the common – without fences or boundaries between them.

The sheep don’t need fences, through flock memory passed down through the generations they stay on their patch of the common, known as a heft.

The heritage of commons isn’t just about commoners and livestock, it’s about some of the UK’s most spectacular landscapes, its most valuable biodiversity, its geology and pre-history, and its history of settlement and industry. And beyond that it’s also about natural systems such as the water and carbon cycles, which shape and support our everyday lives locally, nationally and internationally.

Watch the Dawson family from Bleak Bank Farm as they join with Louise Robinson and other local farmers to gather their respective flocks of sheep down from the hefted fall on Ingleborough ready for shearing.

There’s a more detailed guide to Common Land and Commoning available here.

Why Do We Need This Project?

There are serious threats on the horizon that could impact the future of these ancient spaces, and our access to them. Leaving the EU has led to the biggest disruption to the way common land is managed in 70 years. It has put the economic viability of commoning further into question because of changes to government support and trade deals. More frequent extreme weather events rising from climate change place the heritage of the commons at risk, and biodiversity continues to decline. We also know that children are accessing nature less, meaning they miss out on all the benefits of greenspace.

These productive landscapes help us grow food, absorb rainfall, clean water, nurture wildlife, and take pleasure from recreation. The management of common land, when at sustainable levels, has ensured the survival of ancient monuments and rare wildlife, plants, birds and butterflies. Careful grazing can maintain the balance of delicate upland ecosystems on huge stretches of open landscape.

Find Out More

You can find out more about the project here:

Foundation for Common Land

Our Upland Commons Project pages

Project and Project teams

Yorkshire Dales Commons Stories – a collection of blogs, videos, images about what’s happening on each

Brant Fell Common in the Yorkshire Dales National Park
Brant Fell Common 📸 Rob Fraser (Somewhere Nowhere)