This page describes the main forms of commons in Scotland other than Common Good Land which is dealt with in another section of this website. It is important to note that Common Good Land (or burgh commons) does not form a single class of common land but can include some or all of the types described below.
For a detailed description and historical analysis of the following types of Commons you are advised to download Commonweal Working Paper No. 1 by Robin Callander. What follows is merely a very brief description based on Callander's Paper. For further detail on surviving commons in Scotland, see the Directory.
The main forms of common land in Scotland are as follows: -
By far the most extensive type of commons in Scotland were commonties. These were strictly speaking not genuine commons but uninhabited areas of land ranging from less than a hectare to a thousand hectares or more. Commonties were legally the undivided common property of neighbouring landowners over which extensive rights of commmon use persisted.
Much comment is passed to the effect that there are no Commonties left in Scotland and undoubtedly this is mainly due to the extensive public record of division under a series of 17th century Acts allowing for the commonties to be divided among neighbouring landowners. Ian Adams' book on Scotland's commonties (see Links & Resources) documents the fate of most of Scotland's commonties but also reveals that in many parishes, there is no record of division.
There are around 90 commonties in Scotland for which there is no record of division. They are spread over 25 of Scotland's 34 Counties and range in size from a few hectares to over 2000 hectares. Many of these need further research and investigation. it is likely that some remain as commonties, the rights to which will now rest with landowners (including those owning their own home) in the Parish.
There are three known commonties surviving, namely the Forest of Birse in Aberdeenshire, the North Hill of Alyth in Perthshire and Gifford Common in East Lothian (there are also commonties held as part of Common Good Funds as mentioned above). In additon to these, there is a commonty in the Parish of Carluke which was recently discovered by Andy Wightman and is registered in the Land Register (probably the first to be so). There are a further 2 or 3 which clearly appear to still be commonties and finally, there are the 90 or so mentioned above that require further research.
Scotland's commonties have not completely disappeared!
A Green is a small area of common land usually closely associated with a town or village. Further research is urgently needed to identify and document the greens that remain. On the face of it they are widespread across Scotland but knowledge about their ownership remains unclear although in most cases that we have investigated they appear to still be commons.
A loan is a common route through private property to and from an area of common land or some other "public" place. the distinction between this and a right of way is that the loan itself is common land and not simply a right of use.
the fate of many loans is unknown and further research is needed.
Scattalds are a type of common land found in the Shetland Isles and governed by udal rather than feudal law. Historically, there were around 127 scattalds in the Shetland Isles and around 15 of these survive today.
A moss is a wet area where peats can be dug and historically many were used in common by local people. Common mosses where the same sort of shared property as commonties (indeed most commonties included a moss) and could be divided under the same legislation. However, due to the difficulties in dividing mosses equitably, many were left out of the process of division and thus a significant number are thought to have survived. Again, further research is needed to establish their location and status.
Crown Commons were, together with greens and loans, the only form of true common land (as opposed to undivided common property) in Scotland. Crown Commons were essentially areas of land that were never alienated by feu from the Crown. None are thought to exist today although research into the ownership of the Cuillin on the Isle of Skye has revealed the strong probability that they were never feud and thus remain Crown Commons.
Grazing stances are in fact a type of Green and were areas of common land used for the grazing of cattle and were used by drovers as periodic stopover points on the drove roads that led to the main cattle markets in Scotland. A number of these still exist and are managed by local authorities such as at Potarch on Deeside and in Glen Clova.