Sporting rights on rural land

It is a common misconception that if you buy a piece of land, you own everything connected with it. However, others can enjoy the right to enter your land for a specific purpose, sporting rights being one of the more unusual reasons.

Michael McNally agricultural law expert at Warners Solicitors in Kent explains why potential buyers with an interest in fishing, hunting or shooting must ensure that such sporting rights are included when they buy property with the aim of taking part in such pastimes.

English and Welsh laws pertaining to sporting and shooting rights over land

A sporting right under English property law is known as an ‘incorporeal hereditament’ which means they are an intangible right in land. This contrasts with land itself which is known as a ‘corporeal hereditament’.

The two concepts are linked, so that when you are buying or leasing land, sporting rights come with the property unless they are explicitly excluded and have not been previously reserved.

Such exclusions and reservations are increasingly common given that sporting rights can be a profitable source of income for rural landowners, with sporting rights on property like grouse moors often proving to be of more value than the land itself.

Bestowing sporting rights

If you grant someone a sporting right, whether through gift, lease or sale, you have bestowed a profit a prendre, which means you have given them a right to do something on and take something from your land without giving them any actual ownership rights to the land itself.

It is crucial, therefore, when you are buying property and want to enjoy the benefits of any sporting rights that such land can offer, that the rights to shoot, hunt or fish are actually included in the sale and have not become separated from the land.

Sporting rights can be created and granted in a variety of ways – The landowner can:

  • sell the sporting rights but retain the land for himself;
  • sell or lease the land but expressly keep the sporting rights; or
  • grant a licence to exercise the sporting rights for a certain period of time, with the rights reverting back to the landowner at the end of the agreed period.

Modern sporting rights require the right paperwork

Given how valuable sporting rights can be, it is now highly recommended that an agreement regarding the grant or reservation of sporting rights be set out in writing as a formal deed.

This deed should outline precisely what rights are involved including: what property the agreement covers; what creatures can be shot, fished or hunted and who will own the kill; whether there are any limitations on the numbers that can be killed; what sporting equipment can be used and in what form; and whether access and parking is granted to allow the sporting rights to be exercised.

The agreement should also identify who should be responsible for rearing and preserving the quarry species which are the subject of the sporting rights, who is in charge of controlling any pests that may threaten the quarry, and what restrictions should be placed on the landowner to stop them interfering in some way with the sporting rights.

Given that sporting rights can throw up some complicated issues, with a variety of potential pitfalls arising for the unwary, it is highly advisable to get specialist legal advice if you are considering buying or selling such rights to ensure the agreement you enter into is enforceable and grants the rights intended by both parties.

For further information on sporting or shooting rights over land, please contact Michael McNally. Warners Solicitors has offices in Sevenoaks and Tonbridge, Kent.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.

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