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Court awards Landmark win to Natural Resources Wales regarding Mineral Rights

A landmark judgement in relation to retained mineral rights has been successfully defended by Natural Resources Wales, which manages the forestry owned by the Welsh Assembly.  This judgement is good news for many private woodland owners who feared that they could face litigation through innocently constructing roads and tracks from the stone found on site where the mineral rights have been retained via manorial rights.

The Wynnstay Estate is the original manorial owner for large swathes of land in Wales and whilst it has sold off property through freehold sales, the Estate believed that it had retained its manorial rights.  Wynnstay Estate argued that these rights covered the extraction of stone and took NRW to court to argue its case and seek compensation.  The judgement against Wynnstay Estate will bring a sigh of relief to many who were concerned they would be bound over to pay for stone they believed they had full rights to use.

Trustees of the Wynnstay Estate argued that when it had disposed of title to land - either through conveyances, by statutory enclosure or by third party acts of adverse possession - the only title that passed was to a thin layer of soil immediately above the mudstone, not the mudstone itself.  As such, the Claimant sought a declaration and damages for trespass and breach of its property rights.

Acting in defence of Natural Resources Wales, Hugh James and its barristers, Mark Wonnacott QC and Harriet Holmes, argued that mudstone had not been reserved by the Claimant and that, even if mudstone was included in the reservations, the Defendant’s use of it, and that of its predecessors over many years, amounted to adverse possession of the mudstone.

During the trial the court heard evidence including from documents dating back to the 16th Century, some of these titles having been dealt with under a licence from Queen Elizabeth I to Robert Earl of Leicester.

In her judgment, Mrs Justice Falk ruled that the Claimant's title does not extend to ownership of mudstone and that Natural Resources Wales acted as an occupying owner might normally be expected to do.

The judge also concluded that title to minerals can be lost by adverse possession and that even if mudstone was caught by the mineral reservation, the Claimant had been dispossessed of it.

This does not give woodland owners free rein to use the stone that they find on site however; titles should be checked for mineral rights ownership/retention and, if in doubt, legal advice should be sought.

The full case can be read by clicking the following link: