Open Spaces Society

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The Open Spaces Society is a campaign group that works to protect public rights of way and open spaces in the United Kingdom, such as common land and village greens. It is Britain's oldest national conservation body and a registered charity.

Hampstead Heath


The society was founded as the Commons Preservation Society and merged with the National Footpaths Society in 1899, and adopted their present name. An early example of direct action taken by the society was its overnight removal of two miles of railings that enclosed Berkhamsted common in 1866 with the aid of 120 people. The society also campaigned for the creation of the National Trust.[1]

Its founders and early members included John Stuart Mill, Lord Eversley, William Morris, Sir Robert Hunter, and Octavia Hill. The last two founded the National Trust in 1895 along with Canon Rawnsley. Lord Eversley, as George Lefevre, was a Liberal MP and became a junior minister at the Board of Trade in Gladstone’s government. He held a variety of posts including Commissioner of Works. He opened Hampton Court Park, Kew Gardens and Regent’s Park to the public.[2]

Subsequent growth[edit]

Over the last century and a half the Society has preserved commons for the enjoyment of the public. It has also been active in protecting the historical and vital rights-of-way network through England and Wales. Its early successes included saving Hampstead Heath from gravel extraction, Epping Forest, Wimbledon Common, Ashdown Forest, and the Malvern Hills. After both world wars the society’s difficult task was to reinstate much common land which had been used for defence and food production.[2]

In the late 1960s, following the enactment of the Commons Registration Act 1965, the Open Spaces Society worked hard to register common land and common rights, in the far-too-short three years allowed by the act. But still many commons were lost through failure to register them.[2]


The stated objectives of the Society are:[2]

  • To campaign for stronger protection and opportunities for everyone to enjoy commons, greens and paths.
  • To defend open spaces against loss and pressures from development.
  • To assist local communities so that they can safeguard their green spaces for future generations to enjoy.

Much of the Open Spaces Society's work is concerned with the preservation and creation of public paths. The word 'footpaths' was included in the Society’s title after it amalgamated with the National Footpaths Preservation Society in 1899. Before the introduction of official maps of public paths in the early 1950s, the public did not know where paths were, and the Open Spaces Society helped the successful campaign for paths to be shown on Ordnance Survey maps. Its work also includes helping to protect common land, town and village greens, open spaces and public paths. It advises the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and National Assembly for Wales on applications for works on common land. Local authorities are legally required to consult the Society whenever there is a proposal to alter the route of a public right of way. To facilitate part of its charitable aims, the Open Spaces Society is active in other areas; it has representatives on government working parties, national bodies, and more localised bodies.[citation needed] It also has some of its members representing it as local correspondents in various parts of the country.[2]

Today, the Society has its headquarters in Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire. It has over 2,600 members throughout England and Wales.[2]

Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000[edit]

In 1986, the "Common Land Forum", comprising all the interests in common land, recommended that there should be a public right to walk on all commons, coupled with management of the land. (All commons have a landowner, ranging from a public body to a private individual.) The then government backed the forum’s proposals for legislation and promised to introduce such a law – but it broke the promise. More than a decade later, with the Open Spaces Society's help the right was won under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, to walk on all those commons which previously had no access, subject to certain restrictions.[2]


  1. ^ Peter Barberis; John McHugh; Mike Tyldesley (2000). Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations: Parties, Groups and Movements of the 20th Century. A&C Black. ISBN 978-0-8264-5814-8.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Open Spaces Society

External links[edit]