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Opinion

Look over there! The Crown Estate is far from alone in the questionable ownership of our land

28 May 2023 6 minute read
King Charles III is crowned with St Edward’s Crown by The Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Reverend Justin Welby during his coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey, London. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Stephen Price

The coronation of King Charles III on 6th May unleashed a tidal wave of simmering emotion across the Commonwealth, bringing to the boil deep seated resentments, questions of identity, the impacts of colonialism, and so much more.

Here in Wales, and to our credit, there was very little focus on What Meghan Did Next, the receding hairlines of the warring princes or other such banality, but a very rightful and targeted degree of attention was aimed at our right to protest, the validity of Charles’ position within Wales, and with that the land owned, at our expense, by the Crown Estate.

Pandora’s Box has been well and truly opened, and for those of us who have been awaiting its time under the microscope, I hope its momentum isn’t lost to the next ‘in’ subject we all need to care about until another comes along.

In fact, I hope the simmering actually goes somewhere and does something and finally, finally, boils over and with it comes some renewed focus on the many other unsung villains who, quite wrongly, lay claim to vast swathes of Wales.

While we’ve all been rightly turning up the gas on attention paid to land, both on and off shore, owned by the Crown Estate, big players with just as little claim to our land, and just as murky ways of obtaining it are carrying on, business as usual, and enjoying the radio silence as we all “look over there!”

The Duke of Beaufort

Growing up on the borders of Monmouthshire and Blaenau Gwent, it was ingrained in me and simply accepted by everyone around me that certain areas were simply “the Duke of Beaufort’s land”. Whether that was actually the case or not, I don’t know, and this is the thing. No one ever seems to actually know.

I encourage everyone in Wales to check out the work of Who Owns Wales, a research project to make information about land ownership in Wales accessible. Because it simply is not accessible.

I’ve got a reasonably intelligent head on my shoulders, but try as I might to really get a good understanding of who owns what and where is the job of a very patient detective with a lot of time on their hands.

To quote Sioned Haf, writing on behalf of Who Owns Wales, ‘data on ownership in Wales is widely dispersed and disjointed. In order to access what should be clear and concise data about who owns land in Wales, one must first know where to look, and then collate different resources to get a fuller picture. There is also a significant amount of land, whose ownership is unknown (for example, land that has avoided being registered through being passed on over generations of the same family).’

So who has been taking advantage of their time in the shade while the Crown Estate has been under the spotlight? Naturally, the Duke of Beaufort, one of Britain’s wealthiest landowners, was the first place I wanted to explore, but those of you in different parts of Wales will have other lines of enquiry I’m sure. But even that, quite focused, exploration proved difficult.

Mynydd y Gwair Wind Farm

Scant information exists, particularly around exact locations and acreage, and much of the knowledge that is readily available comes from other news websites. £280,000 paid to the Duke of Beaufort’s Estate by Swansea Council back in 2009 in order to gain permission for a footbridge over the Tawe; a much-opposed wind-farm near Swansea that became known as the ‘battle of Mynydd y Gwair’; the now-scrapped plans for the Racetrack for Wales which was earmarked for a tiny portion of the Duke’s 850 acres on the outskirts of Ebbw Vale alone. We are talking a lot of land.

The previous Duke of Beaufort passed away in 2017, and the mantle has passed to his son, Henry John FitzRoy Somerset. Henry is the master of the Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt, and just like his father before him, he is descended in the male line from the House of Plantagenet. Not very well known at Ebbw Vale Rugby Club, you might assume.

Power

To own land is to own power. Power over resources, over the environment, over development, and with that power comes money. Money that could most certainly be used in Blaenau Gwent and Swansea right now, and yet in the clear case of the troubled bridge over the Tawe, rather than our own people gaining from the land, our money is being spent appeasing these absent, landed and anonymous rich folk. It’s not just absurd, it should make our blood boil.

That’s just one example for you, there are many more, and many more abuses of power taking place on these questionably gained lands. A spot of pheasant shooting, anyone?

And it’s not just the rich folk at it. Where is the scrutiny and attention paid to the National Trust and their 111,000 acres? Of course, all above board in their ownership and they do incredible work to preserve and promote many jewels in our crown, but that’s a lot of land headquartered in England all the same. And for anyone who has tried and failed to view the Green Bridge of Wales along the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park (twice now in my case, this is personal), there’s a great deal of land in Wales owned by the Ministry of Defence. Land that was attained in some very unsettling ways the more you scratch the surface.

The Government’s own website states that ‘on 1st April 2022, the Wales land holdings were 23,300 hectares (6.8% of the MOD total)’. You’ll note that hectares are used and not acres as these make the numbers seem much more palatable. So that’s actually 57,575 or so acres according to my calculator. Our farmers and our wildlife could do a lot with that.

Admittedly, this is all ongoing work that is nowhere near complete, but there are tools available for people to do their own bit on the Who Owns Wales website, and this is work that certainly needs doing.

Our resources have been plundered enough. Our communities could and should be doing so much more with them. This is our land; the land of our fathers and mothers before us, and our children long after us. We all deserve better.

Cofiwch Epynt.


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Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
10 months ago

We must become independent and then the land can be given back to Cymru and the people in it, who will hold it in trust for our descendants..

Frank
Frank
10 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Jones

Isn’t it shameful when words such as “the land can be given back to Cymru and the people in it” are used! Can you imagine the fuss if the Cymry owned part of England? Having said that, England is in fact land stolen from the Celtic nations.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
10 months ago

Ynys Mon would make for a good study on land ownership…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
10 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Here are a few… The Bulkeleys, Pagets, Meyricks, Hollands, Stanleys, Bostons, Stenna, Network Rail, Dwr Cymru, NRW, NT. Cyngor Ynys Mon….

Last edited 10 months ago by Mab Meirion
Dewi Davies
Dewi Davies
10 months ago

Rumour has it that the Crawshay family were paid over £1 million for mining rights at Fos yr Fran in Merthyr. Given their very chequered history here in Merthyr it would be a disgrace if indeed this is true.

Neil Anderson
Neil Anderson
10 months ago

On independence, all land in Cymru should be registered and its beneficial owners identified, including those hidden by companies whose ownership and tax affairs are often opaque. There is a strong case for blanket nationalisation, with compensation paid net of government subsidies and rent accrued. We must control all of our land and and coastal areas now under control of the Crown Estate and otherwise, and manage them subject to sustainability criteria. Thorough assessments should determine the appropriateness of each parcel of land and seabed for future potential uses, including rewilding, small-scale farming, recreation, forestry etc. We also need to… Read more »

Jeff
Jeff
10 months ago
Reply to  Neil Anderson

This is why nationalism is harmful.

Neil Anderson
Neil Anderson
10 months ago
Reply to  Jeff

Only to absentee landowners…

Frank
Frank
10 months ago

Everything in the possession of this minority group, known as royals, is stolen. Land, gold, silver, jewels etc………. all nicked centuries ago for the king/queen by an army of English bully soldiers who outnumbered the “peasants” 20-1. You try stealing something and it’s illegal. The king or queen steals something and it’s quite legal. You couldn’t make it up!! The sad thing is that some people still worship these thieves who caused unbelievable hardship on our ancestors!! Can you believe that? The Mafia could learn a thing or two from these particular mobsters.

David Charles pearn
David Charles pearn
10 months ago
Reply to  Frank

Well said Frank it’s just obscene what the royals have amassed over the centuries, Which never ever belonged to them.

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
10 months ago

We have, here in Wales, lived in ignorance for centuries as to who actuallly owns much of our land – and it is our land. People with no connections here, other than through plunder, are still quietly using us every day. Through independence we can aim to rectify this injustice.

Dai Ponty
Dai Ponty
10 months ago

How was our land owned by the English by act of Conquest i have heard and read comments that England owns Wales which bloody really makes me mad

Riki
Riki
10 months ago
Reply to  Dai Ponty

It doesn’t, right of conquest was never put into effect. You need certain conditions for such a thing. Such as an unconditional surrender or complete control and erode action of the entire nations people. Neither of which occurred. 1. Only around 70% of Wales was occupied, and 2. The Principality of Wales was legitimatised by the crown of England…this is crucial as they could never speak for the entirety of Wales. Ensuring that Wales on the whole could never be owned by England. If you look into the make up of the UK, you’ll realise there is actually 5 countries.… Read more »

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
10 months ago

And our political leaders keep telling us we are “better off in the union”. Really??

They should read this excellent article.

Sikejsudjek
Sikejsudjek
10 months ago

It should all be given back to Wales, and I say that as someone born in England.

Wrexhamian
Wrexhamian
10 months ago

I draw your attention also to the large-scale purchasing of Welsh farmland by corporations and investment companies for carbon offset purposes.

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
10 months ago
Reply to  Wrexhamian

At a local level, there are things that one can do. If land is unregistered then it is contestable. If one encloses and uses such land after 12 years one can lay a claim with the Land Registry for ownership. Of course one might not win it, but it would get the Beaufort’s and the like to realise that what they think they own is at risk.

Riki
Riki
10 months ago

You missed an important distinction “King Charles the Second”….of England! You legitimise them and their control of Wales when you don’t highlight such distinctions.

Paula
Paula
4 days ago
Reply to  Riki

And of Scotland – but not Wales! I’m with you on this – thanks for the reminder – very important.

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