In search of the Holy Gravel - or why the Church of England has registered its mineral rights

Posted on 07 February 2018

English Church

An article in The Times on 9 January raised concerns about the Church of England's claims to minerals beneath privately owned land.

Why has the Church made these claims now?  

The Land Registration Act 2002 stated that certain rights including manorial rights must be registered by 13 October 2013, otherwise on a disposition after that date they would cease to be "overriding interests" and would be lost.

Overriding interests are interests in land which are not noted on the register but still bind any person who acquires an interest in registered land. Manorial rights are those rights which still benefit the historic Lord of the Manor after he has sold off land from the manor i.e. mines and minerals, fishing, hunting and shooting rights.

Considering that the Church of England was, historically, the nation's greatest landowner it comes as no surprise that, following sales of the majority of its land, the Church has the benefit of many of these rights. It has made a large number of applications to protect them by way of registration of unilateral notices against relevant titles.

What has the Church claimed?

The Church has claimed the mines and minerals beneath the land BUT, unless specifically stated in the entry at the Land Registry, the church does not have the right to break the surface of the land in order to work the mines and minerals.  This means that the Church does not have the right to start digging in your back garden.

Why did the Church do it?  

The Church has done this to preserve value for the future.  A large development with deep foundations might encroach onto the mines and minerals.  If fracking were to be undertaken by another body then the shaft could pass though mines and minerals.  In both cases the Church would be looking to receive compensation for the disturbance.

How does it affect landowners?

The applications by the Church do not alter the position of the landowners -  it is the same as before the notices were registered.  The Church's rights have always existed.  It is simply that they are now clear from looking at the land register.

Can anything be done about it?

A unilateral notice is limited in effect and does not guarantee that the interest it protects is valid or even that it exists.  If the landowner applies to cancel the notice, the Church will then have to produce evidence proving it is entitled to the rights claimed.  If evidence is adduced, the Church will be entitled to a separate Land Registry title for the mines and minerals.

Who is affected?

There is a rebuttable presumption that mines and minerals are included with the land, however the only sure way of knowing whether mines and minerals are included in a title is if the register states specifically that mines and minerals are included in it.  Otherwise, unless the land has been transferred for value since 13 October 2013, it is still possible that manorial rights could be claimed against it.  

This is quite a technical area of law so if you are unsure whether your land is affected, please get in touch.