Below you'll find answers to the questions we get asked the most.
Who owns The Crown Estate?
The Crown Estate belongs to the reigning monarch 'in right of The Crown', that is, it is owned by the monarch for the duration of their reign, by virtue of their accession to the throne. But it is not the private property of the monarch - it cannot be sold by the monarch, nor do revenues from it belong to the monarch.
The Government also does not own The Crown Estate. It is managed by an independent organisation - established by statute - headed by a Board (also known as The Crown Estate Commissioners), and the surplus revenue from the estate is paid each year to the Treasury for the benefit of the nation's finances.
How did The Crown Estate come into being?
Although the ownership of some property can be traced back to Edward the Confessor, the estate as a whole essentially dates from the time of the Norman Conquest.
In 1760, George III reached an agreement with the Government over the estate. The Crown Lands would be managed on behalf of the Government and the surplus revenue would go to the Treasury. In return the King would receive a fixed annual payment - what later became known as the Civil List.
Today, The Crown Estate operates under the auspices of the Crown Estate Act of 1961, which declares that the estate shall be managed by a Board who have a duty to maintain and enhance the value of the estate and the return obtained from it, but with due regard to the requirements of good management.
What is The Crown Estate's relationship with the Treasury?
The Treasury are effectively the principal Government stakeholder for The Crown Estate. They are kept informed of the estate's overall business plans and strategies, although responsibility for the management of the estate rests with the Board.
The Crown Estate is formally accountable to Parliament to which it reports annually.
How does the Sovereign Grant Act affect The Crown Estate?
The Sovereign Grant Act became law in 2011.
The Act does not affect the managerial or operational functions of The Crown Estate or the way they are performed. We will continue to give our entire annual surplus (net profit) to the Treasury. The Act simply provides a mechanism that will be used by the Treasury to determine the amount of Government funding for the Monarch by reference to the amount of our annual surplus.
Does The Crown Estate manage the Royal Palaces?
No. The royal residences are divided into two categories:
1) Occupied Royal Palaces
Administered by the Royal Household and held in trust for future generations, e.g. Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. For further information, please visit:
2) Private Estates
Her Majesty The Queen's private possessions handed down from previous generations, e.g. Balmoral and Sandringham. The Historic Royal Palaces agency administers the palaces that are no longer in official use and are open to the public, e.g. Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London. For further information, please visit:
Does The Crown Estate manage the Royal Parks?
Windsor Great Park is the only 'Royal Park' that is managed by The Crown Estate. All other Royal Parks are administered by The Royal Parks. Please visit:
Is the Royal Family involved in the running of The Crown Estate?
No. The Crown Estate is run by a Board (The Crown Estate Commissioners) and their staff.
HRH The Duke of Edinburgh is the Ranger of Windsor Great Park, although daily issues are dealt with by the Deputy Ranger on the Windsor estate.
Is there any relationship between The Crown Estate and the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster?
No. The two Duchies are completely separate organisations and operate under their own statutes.
What is 'Crown land'?
This is a phrase often used to cover a variety of different properties such as:
- Land belonging to The Queen as monarch
- The Queen's private property
- Properties of the Duchies
- Government land
All of these definitions are partly correct, but naturally it can be somewhat confusing. To avoid this, we always refer to our property and land as being 'The Crown Estate'.
What is Old Land Revenue Property?
Old Land Revenue Property is property that has been occupied by the Ministry of Defence or another government department since before 1702 (when by Act of Parliament the responsibility for the armed forces was changed from the Sovereign to the Government). When such property is no longer required by the Ministry of Defence or other government department it returns to the management of The Crown Estate.
Notable examples include Chester and Dover castles, which are both now managed by English Heritage.
What happens to the boundaries of the foreshore when the sea advances or retreats?
If the process of change is natural, and happens imperceptibly from day to day, then ownership changes accordingly. Therefore, if land ceases to be tidal (e.g. foreshore or riverbed), it becomes the property of the adjacent landowner. Conversely if land erodes and naturally converts to tidal, then it becomes the property of the tidal landowner. Often this can be the Crown.
If the change is sudden and immediately visible, e.g. the breaching of flood defences in a storm, then the ownership remains as it was unless alternative agreements are made. The same is the case where changes occur as a result of human action, e.g. reclamation or digging out basins.
Does The Crown Estate assume management of 'unclaimed land'?
Freehold land can sometimes effectively become ownerless. When this happens, title to the land may, in certain circumstances, revert to the Crown as the ultimate owner of all the land in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. This process is called 'escheat'. It can happen in a variety of situations.
The most common is where a registered company is wound up and dissolved without all its property being accounted for in the liquidation.
The Crown Estate deals with escheat where the land falls within England, Wales or Northern Ireland and outside Cornwall and the County Palatine of Lancaster - where escheat is dealt with by the Duchy of Cornwall and the Duchy of Lancaster respectively. Contact details for the Duchies are set out in the "Is there any relationship between The Crown Estate and the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster?" FAQ.
Escheat should not to be confused with what in common parlance might be called 'unclaimed land'. Land can often have no apparent owner, but The Crown Estate will not generally be involved with such land unless it is in fact ownerless in circumstances where escheat applies.
Land comprised in the estates of persons who died without making a will and without known family is administered by the Treasury Solicitor.
Do I need a permit to metal detect on Crown Estate foreshore?
No. You do not need to apply for a permit, this excludes the River Thames.
Anybody wishing to carry out metal detecting on our foreshore is granted a permissive right from The Crown Estate; this permissive right does not apply to the seabed or river beds or any other Crown Estate land. Please visit our Metal Detecting page for more information.
Does The Crown Estate license gold panning?
We do not grant permission for people to remove any gold by panning because of the damage gold panning can cause. Please also note that permission of the landowner is required to gain access to the stream or river if you wish to pan for gold.
We understand that this policy may disappoint some however our intention is to help preserve the aquatic environments which are susceptible to damage.
To understand more about the type of damage that gold panning can cause, please contact your relevant national statutory nature conservation organisation, as breaches of environmental and other legislation may result in prosecution or other action.
I would like to harvest seaweed from the foreshore, what do I need to know before I do this?
The Crown Estate owns the territorial seabed out to 12 nautical miles and around half of foreshore around England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Hand harvesting of seaweed for any form of monetary or other reward from Crown foreshore or seabed will require a licence from The Crown Estate. The granting of the licence will be dependent upon relevant natural heritage authority (Natural England in most cases) confirmation of the sustainability of the harvesting proposal. Please visit our Seaweed Harvesting page for more information on the process for licensing.
Collection for personal use does not require a licence and we are content for such collection to proceed for small quantities. We recommend anyone doing so takes account of environmental sensitivity of collecting anything from the wild.
FAQs about Escheat
What is escheat?
Under our legal system, the Monarch (currently Queen Elizabeth II), as head of state, owns the superior interest in all land in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In most cases, this is usually irrelevant but it can become relevant if a freehold property becomes ownerless. If this happens, freehold land may, in some circumstances, fall to the monarch as the owner of the superior interest. This process is called 'escheat'.
The types of properties that become subject to escheat are wide ranging from verges, roadways, freehold reversions and amenity land to disused coal mines and, in some cases, historically significant property. There is no comprehensive list of properties that may be subject to escheat but The Crown Estate is aware of around 7,000 properties listed as being subject to escheat. Recent specific examples of escheat include the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Carlisle and the Trent Valley Recycling site in Worksop.
The Crown Estate, by convention only, through its appointed legal advisors Burges Salmon LLP, deals with the vast majority of instances where property may be deemed subject to escheat throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Please note that where properties subject to escheat are located within the Duchy of Lancaster or the Duchy of Cornwall, they will fall to be dealt with by those bodies, respectively.
How does land and property become ownerless and subject to escheat?
There are a number of ways by which property may become subject to escheat, the most common of which are set out below:
- Where a company has become insolvent and the Treasury Solicitor (of the Government Legal Department), a Trustee in Bankruptcy or a Liquidator disclaims freehold property owned by the insolvent company;
- When a foreign company which owned freehold land in England, Wales and Northern Ireland ceases to exist; or
- When an Industrial and Provident Society or a Friendly Society ceases to exist.
What is The Crown Estate’s approach to handling escheat properties?
The Crown Estate, by convention only, through its appointed legal advisors Burges Salmon LLP, deals with the vast majority of instances where property may be deemed subject to escheat throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It must be ascertained beyond any reasonable doubt that a property is deemed subject to escheat before The Crown Estate will consider dealing with it.
The Crown Estate does not take any action which might be construed as an act of management, possession or ownership in relation to the Property, since to do so may incur liabilities associated with the Property.
As agreed with the Treasury, it is inappropriate for The Crown Estate to act as a guarantor of last resort for companies and individuals who have failed financially, leaving onerous property in their wake. To do so would not be an appropriate application of The Crown Estate's revenues, nor was it a function envisaged for The Crown Estate by Parliament. Properties that may be subject to escheat are frequently onerous in nature, and many have little or no monetary value. The total cost of all potential past, present and future liabilities connected to such properties, of which there are many, would be enormous. As The Crown Estate accounts to the Treasury for its operating surplus, such a cost would end up as a burden on the public purse.
How are properties and land subject to escheat sold back into private ownership?
Where it is desirable to sell land which is subject to escheat The Crown Estate is, in principle, prepared to transfer such interest as it has to an appropriate person or body in order to return the property to private ownership. In so doing:
- The Crown Estate can only sell the whole of the land subject to escheat in one transaction, as to sell part would constitute an act of management regarding the remainder;
- Any sale would be subject to any mortgages, legal charges or other encumbrances which might exist against the former freehold interest;
- The Crown Estate is required by statute to achieve the best consideration, having regard to all the circumstances, for any disposal of land; and
- Since The Crown Estate accounts to the Treasury, for the benefit of the public purse, it will always require a contribution to its legal costs from anyone seeking to purchase property or land subject to escheat.
In some cases, it will be necessary to undertake a local consultation exercise to ensure that any sale, if agreed, is in the interest of the locality and is made to an appropriate purchaser.