The research presented  in  this book  is premised on the understanding that cultural  assumptions concerning the value of common land are not stable but have changed  across the centuries, with profound consequences for the law, for land management and  for the exercise of common rights. The distinctive legal status of ‘common’ land poses  a puzzle for a society in which concepts of private property are dominant, giving rise  to a series of tensions that have emerged at different times: between public and private  rights and interests; between concepts of common rights as appurtenant to property and  as personal rights; between limitations on their use based on necessity and commercial  exploitation. The sustainable governance of common land therefore presents us with  a complex set of problems reflecting many conflicting  interests – public and private,  national and local, recreational and economic, ecological and agricultural, to name but  a  few. Common land is,  in this sense, a  truly  ‘contested’ resource. The ‘stakeholders’  of today – whether land users, policy-makers or the public – are the inheritors of this  complex cultural legacy, and must negotiate diverse and sometimes conflicting objectives  in their pursuit of a potentially unifying goal: a secure future for the commons. 

In drawing this study together, this chapter will argue for a wider public debate on  the sustainability of our commons – an important facet of the British landscape – and  how it might be promoted. It will also look beyond the narrow focus of the English and  Welsh commons, and consider  the potential  impact of  the research presented  in the  earlier chapters on the wider debate about the institutional governance of common pool  resources. 

Several key themes emerge from the case studies presented in Chapters 6 to 9. The first  is  the persistence of custom and  its  importance  in the governance of  the commons.  Related to this is the role of ‘good neighbourhood’ as a key ingredient in good common  pool resource management. Custom is often expressed differently at different  times, 

and its relationship with governance  institutions  is  sometimes complex and shifting.  Another theme linking the case studies  is  the complex  interrelationship between the  changing nature of customary land-use practices, on the one hand, and the legal and/or  institutional form in which they are captured, reflected and (in some cases) shaped by  governance institutions and norms, on the other. 

The complexity of these interrelationships can be very clearly seen if we consider  the relationship between customary land-use practice and the property rights captured  by the Commons Registration Act 1965, and reflected in the contemporary commons  registers. The 1965 Act has been described as the true ‘tragedy’ of the commons, in an  English context, and  its  impact upon the sustainable management of  the commons  was almost wholly negative (Rodgers, 2010, p436). The relationship of the commons  registration process to customary land management practices that were prevalent, prior  to 1965, in many different parts of England and Wales was, however, highly complex,  as was its impact.