A Commoner is a person who enjoys a specific Right of Common over Ashdown Forest. In 1965, the Commons Registration Act forced all Commoners to re-register their Rights. Approximately half of the Commoners of Ashdown Forest didn't bother to register and their properties ceased to enjoy their common rights. This explains why it is possible to have a row of identical cottages, some with common rights and some without. Sadly, once Commoner's rights have been lost they cannot be reinstated.
The Commons Registration Act deals with commons and village greens throughout the whole country. It is not specific to Ashdown Forest, which makes the Forest subject to National Regulations. The Registration Authority for Ashdown Forest is East Sussex County Council.
Rights of Common are attached to land and property but not to people or houses. About 730 properties in and around the Forest have them. The general rule is that, when a property registered under the Act changes hands, the previous owner loses the Rights of Common and the new owner assumes them. Land not registered under the Commons Registration Act 1965 cannot now be registered. However, rights can be relinquished by making a Statutory Declaration, via a Commissioner of Oaths, to East Sussex County Council. A copy must be forwarded to the Conservators.
Anyone buying a house or land in the vicinity of the Forest may find themselves to be Commoners. Apart from some or all of the pastoral Rights (grazing animals and wood-cutting) Commoners are entitled to vote for representatives on the Board of Conservators and are also obliged to pay a Forest Rate, which goes towards the expense of managing the Forest.
Today, of the 730 existing Commoners, only a very few take advantage of their grazing and wood-cutting rights (estovers). The Forest has suffered from the decline; after over 700 years of use, the cessation of grazing and cutting has allowed the heathland to become old and woody, bracken to spread and scrubby birch to invade.
Results of the Commoners questionnaire click here
Commoners have an annual meeting (March of each year). Arrangements for the meeting follow the requirements laid out in the Ashdown Forest Act 1974.
Commoners have the right (under the Ashdown Forest Act 1974 amended by Clause 89 of the East Sussex Act 1981) to vote in the election of Commoner Conservators, or indeed stand for any election should they so wish.