Who owns the mineral rights?

Many landowners may be surprised to learn that the ownership of the minerals beneath their land is not necessarily guaranteed, even if no mention is made of a third party owning those minerals, either in the recent title deeds or in the registered title. 

Whilst the ownership of some minerals is reserved by statute, there are other ownerships which can be found in ancient laws or customs and which may be difficult to trace.  The Land Registry is attempting to clarify matters, at least in part, by ensuring that persons or bodies with “manorial rights” (which may include mineral rights, as well as sporting and other rights) must prove and register those interests.

In essence, the rights may still exist where the affected land is former copyhold of a manor, and where that land was enfranchised (i.e. upgraded from a copyhold tenancy to a freehold title) automatically by statute as of 1st January 1926, being the relevant date specified in the Law of Property Act 1922.  These manorial rights currently have priority over the landowners’ rights, whether or not they are known to the landowner. 

From 13th October 2013, unless the rights are protected at the Land Registry, any person or body transferring the surface land over those mineral rights, will not be bound by those rights and after that transfer the surface owner can be sure that, at least in this respect, he is the owner of the mineral rights.

It is not necessary for an owner of minerals to register his rights if those minerals are separate from the surface of the land.  These rights can be registered on a voluntary basis at the Land Registry and the 2013 deadline is irrelevant. 

Nonetheless, the exercise of proving title to mineral rights which are connected with a lordship of the manor is likely to stir matters up and it is quite possible that, over the next year or so, a number of landowners will be confronted with old documents which show a reservation of mineral rights.  In some cases, there may well be an effect on the value of the landowners’ interest if the minerals are considered valuable or if development of the land is anticipated.

Trustees with ownership of manorial rights will need to consider this issue carefully since a failure to protect the interests may lead to claims from beneficiaries who feel that the trustees have breached their duties by failing to protect trust property. 

Landowners should be aware that simply investigating their title deeds is not sufficient.  The Land Registry do not provide an indemnity against the possibility of a third party owning mineral rights under registered land except in very specific circumstances, so the only reassurance available to landowners is that provided by insurance.

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