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Charter of the Forest 800

Charter of the Forest 800 celebrates the anniversary of the charter first issued in 1217 as a companion document to the better-known Magna Carta. For ordinary folk, the Charter of the Forest was a far more significant document than the Magna Carta because it aimed to stop royal encroachment of common land and protect the rights of commoners to gain their livelihood from commons resources.

It was also the first environmental charter, the first to offer a defence of the commons in general and a fundamental part of the British Constitution that stayed on the statute books longer than any other piece of legislation.

We aim to highlight the ongoing plunder of the commons, including through Fracking, privatisation, commercialisation, forced austerity and neglect and show how the principle in the Forest Charter responses point to solutions today. More from Peter Linebaugh, author of Magna Carta Manifesto, in his address to Speaker's House on the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest.  

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What the 800th Anniversary is About

The Charter of the Forest was sealed in St.Paul’s on November 6, 1217. Besides curbing the power of the monarchy to seize common land and resources for its own use, it asserted the right of all to free access to the commons. The commons have been plundered over the centuries, and are being plundered now. We must stop that, before it is too late.

The commons are our land, water and natural resources, as well as the social amenities built for the people over centuries, including allotments, parks and libraries, and what is called the intellectual commons.

Our commons are being commercialised, neglected or sold off at knockdown prices, often to foreign capital or offshore investors. Our 27,000 public parks are threatened; our public libraries, swimming pools, youth centres and children’s playgrounds are being shut or cut; allotments are under attack; fracking and drilling are being allowed under our national parks; our streets and squares are being privatised. The plunder goes on.

The Charter protected the right to roam and the right to use public spaces for law-abiding purposes. This is being eroded.

The Charter was intended as a permanent law limiting enclosure of the commons. Today, enclosure is accelerating, without our knowledge or consent.

The Charter was the first environmental law. Its ethos can be revived. Campaigns to give legal rights to nature, and community charter movements, are growing.

The Charter was intended as a permanent law ensuring everybody could share and sustain the commons.A new Charter of the Commons is needed. Already, cities and towns in Europe, the US and UK are developing community charters to ensure collective governance of the local commons: housing, public space and our natural and cultural heritage.

In celebrating the anniversary, organisers are calling for a new Domesday Book to document who owns Britain’s land and identify the commons; plus a Charter of the Commons, including the development of local community charters. Already, cities and towns in Europe, the US and UK are developing community charters to ensure collective governance of the local commons: housing, public space and our natural and cultural heritage.

Events

To celebrate the 800th anniversary, a group centred around New Putney Debates is organising a series of events to highlight the contemporary relevance of the Charter. Click on the following dates to view the full programme for each event:

Sunday 17 September 2017

Celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest–a barge trip from Windsor to Runnymede & Ankerwycke, with workshops, discussions and a visit to the 2,500-year-old Ankerwycke yew tree.

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Sunday 5 November 2017

Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood and Fracking Protectors meet to celebrate the past, present and future of the amazing world renowned heritage known as Sherwood Forest.

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Tuesday 7 November 2017

A seminar to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the ‘Charter of the Forest’ on Tuesday 7 November 2017 from 6.30pm – 8.30pm in the State Rooms of the Speaker’s House in the House of Commons.

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Saturday 11 November 2017

The Labour Party will host an economic conference in Lincoln next month, attended by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who will lay out his party’s plans to bring back key industries into public ownership, with speakers linking this to cooperative ownership and movements to reclaim the commons. The conference will mark the 800th anniversary of the ‘Charter of the Forest’ in Lincoln, which is home to one of the two surviving copies.

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Charter of the Forest Themes

These are the six issues we are discussing in our meetings which are happening now and you can learn about each by clicking on the image or the 'Find out more' button etc and so forth.

Sustenance from the commonwealth

While the Magna Carta of 1215 is now much more famous, the Charter of the Forest of 1217 at the time was certainly as important, maybe more so, because it gave commoners rights, privileges and protection against the abuses of the king, his sheriffs and the encroaching aristocracy.

Enclosure of the commons

While the Magna Carta of 1215 is now much more famous, the Charter of the Forest of 1217 at the time was certainly as important, maybe more so, because it gave commoners rights, privileges and protection against the abuses of the king, his sheriffs and the encroaching aristocracy.

Protecting the environment by commoning

While the Magna Carta of 1215 is now much more famous, the Charter of the Forest of 1217 at the time was certainly as important, maybe more so, because it gave commoners rights, privileges and protection against the abuses of the king, his sheriffs and the encroaching aristocracy.

A new Domesday Book

A call for a New Domesday book to reclaim the commons. Currently ownership of large tracts of land are shrouded in secrecy. However we do know that the UK has some of the highest concentrations of land ownership and rights in Europe. How could land, rights and responsibilities be more equally distributed to secure the commonwealth?

Governing the commons

Exploring  the need for new rights, responsibilities, economic and  democratic practices to govern the contemporary commons; political, physical and intellectual (eg the wiki movement, open source software and creative commons licensing). Linking this to international and local initiatives on Municipalism ,  Community Charters, Commoning,  participative democracy and reclaiming contemporary commons (housing, food, parks, community centres, land rights etc.)   to develop a  Charter of the Commons for London and other areas as agreed locally.

Developing a social history

While the Magna Carta of 1215 is now much more famous, the Charter of the Forest of 1217 at the time was certainly as important, maybe more so, because it gave commoners rights, privileges and protection against the abuses of the king, his sheriffs and the encroaching aristocracy.

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