Ownership of land is often fettered with obligations and, in some circumstances, the obligation can be to permit someone else to extract something from the land. In legal terminology, this is called a profit-à-prendre and one of the most common of these is the right to graze animals.
Where such a right exists, the owner of the land cannot prevent the right being exercised. Recently, the High Court had to consider such a case. A farm which reared polo ponies sought to re-establish the right to graze them over a piece of adjacent land owned by someone else. The right was to graze the ponies from evening until morning for eight months of the year. The farm sought to register the right at the Land Registry. The application was opposed by the landowners.
The landowners had fenced off a part of the land which was being used to keep chickens and a pig. A deputy adjudicator at the Land Registry ruled that the farm had no right to graze its ponies on the land. The owners of the farm appealed against the decision, which led to the matter being heard in the High Court.
After complex arguments, the judge decided that the initial decision had been made on the wrong grounds and that, in principle, a right to profit-à-prendre had been established. The case was remitted back to the adjudicator for reconsideration.
The issue arose initially because the owners of the land, which they had bought in 1994, appeared not to be aware of the existence of the legal right to graze the ponies. The result was a court case over a right that, in financial terms, is almost valueless.