Landowners’ rights

The rights of foreshore owners with regard to the collection of shoreline species are complex, and have still not fully been tested under case law. The ‘natural products’ found on the seashore belong to the owner of the shore, but not the ‘sea fish’ found there. The public may exercise common law rights (bait collection for personal use and collection of ‘sea fish’) over the foreshore without landowners’ permission. Exceptions occur where there are ancient proprietary rights associated with the ownership of coastal land over, e.g., adjacent shellfisheries (this most commonly occurs in estuaries or other inlets) or where fisheries are private as a result of a pre-Magna Carta grant in England.

Landowners may issue licenses or permits for individuals to take ‘natural products’, including commercial baitworm digging. This could encourage landowners to manage bait stocks sustainably to generate revenue, but their inability to regulate the activities of potentially large numbers of individuals collecting for their own use, or to distinguish effectively between commercial and personal collection may limit the success of this approach.

It is difficult in practical terms for many landowners to exert control over the damaging activities of ‘third parties’ (those who are not owners or occupiers) on intertidal SSSIs, e.g. commercial bait diggers, as legally required of landowners under Section 28(5) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions (DETR 1998 b) suggested some options for tackling this problem, including enabling conservation agencies a locus for involvement. These include: creating a specific offence (deliberately or recklessly causing damage) with appropriate penalties; using byelaws to prevent damage; and improving liaison between conservation agencies and Police Wildlife Liaison Officers. (The alternative approach is use of a Section 29 Nature Conservation Order – see Budle Bay case study.)

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