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Rural Ramblings and the Year of the Village Green

PUBLISHED: 06:32 14 March 2017 | UPDATED: 06:32 14 March 2017

A family playing cricket on Brockham village green (Photo: Matthew Williams)

A family playing cricket on Brockham village green (Photo: Matthew Williams)

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In this month’s column, Andy Smith, Surrey branch director of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, celebrates our village greens and suggests how we can preserve them from encroachment

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine March 2017

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Singer-songwriter Sir Ray Davies, front-man for swinging 60s rock band The Kinks, is probably best known for his melancholic anthem to a foggy London town, Waterloo Sunset. But he also penned a wonderful tribute to the English countryside and rural traditions. His song, Village Green, was not a big hit but with its quirky lyrics “We are the Village Green Preservation Society – God save Donald Duck, vaudeville and variety” it is a memorable ditty, which celebrates English country life and has been used to great effect in films like Hot Fuzz and TV series, such as Jam and Jerusalem, perfectly capturing the essence of Englishness. Indeed, perhaps more than anything else, it is our nation’s village greens – scenes of numerous cricket matches, fairs, fetes and cream teas – that have come to epitomise rural England.

This year has been declared “The Year of the Village Green” by the Open Spaces Society (OSS), and the society is urging people throughout the country to ensure that their local green is registered as such so that it can be protected from encroachment and development. The fact that so many village greens have survived until now, in view of the constant development pressures on the countryside, is largely down to the OSS, which was formed 150 years ago as the Commons Preservation Society and has spent the last 150 years campaigning to protect and promote public open spaces and helping to put in place the legislation that has saved them for the benefit of local people.

Right of recreation

The key piece of legislation is the Commons Registration Act 1965. Places registered under this law include recreation grounds and any piece of land where local people have enjoyed rights of informal recreation for at least 20 years without being stopped and without asking permission. The effect of registering land as a green is that local people have rights of recreation on that land and it is protected from encroachment and development under section 12 of the Inclosure Act 1857 and section 29 of the Commons Act 1876.

However, all is not rosy, and there have been continued attempts by developers to gobble up open spaces for housing and other forms of development. Unfortunately, the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 put an end to new applications to register land as greens where that land is already threatened with development. So it is vital that local communities identify eligible land before it is threatened, gather evidence of use and submit an application to the county council. The OSS website is useful and the society has published a book, Getting Greens Registered, which can be downloaded from the site.

Here in Surrey we have 69 town or village greens that were registered under the Commons Registration Act 1965. They range from the tiny (such as Nutfield Green at just 0.04 hectares) to the substantial (Ripley Green, 27.35 hectares). A great majority are owned by district or parish councils, but there are still a few in private ownership. Some, such as Abinger Hatch and Marsh Greens, still have rights attached to registered farms or homes to turn out livestock, so can be used for cattle grazing. Others, such as Kingston Road Recreation Ground, in Leatherhead, and East Clandon Village Geen are “inclosure allotments” and some, such as Brockham Green, are doubtless of great vintage, and probably at least as old as the village itself. A few, such as Albury Green, on Albury Heath, were instead registered as common land, and are protected under different legislation. The only new green (registered since the 1965 Act) is Windmill Drive, Leatherhead.

Common land registration

Registration as a village green can ensure that an open space that has been used for public recreation can continue to be used as such, and that it can be preserved forever. At a time when Surrey’s countryside is under such intense pressure for development, registering land as a village green can provide vital protection. The registration process is surprisingly simple, and it is Surrey County Council that makes the decision on whether or not to register.

- For more information, go to www.oss.org.uk

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