The resurgence of mining in Cornwall led to an increased focus on the ownership of mineral rights. But how do you go about finding out who owns the mineral rights in your land? Scott Mitchell, a partner at Stephens Scown LLP, has helped many landowners with this issue. He explains what is involved in this article.

After a period of long-term decline, mining in the South West and in Cornwall particularly is experiencing a great deal of renewed interest. From the prospective development of the South Crofty tin mine by Strongbow Exploration to the new initiatives proposed by Cornish Lithium and British Lithium, there are several major developments in the pipeline.

Do I own the surface land and the mineral interests?

This is a question that a landowner client asked me recently. He knew that there was talk about prospecting for minerals on nearby land and he wondered if he owned not only the surface of the land but also the mineral interests in it, or if there was a third party owner of those mineral rights.

The registered titles to his land were not helpful as they were silent on the subject of mineral rights. As the land was in an area with some historical mining activity, we could not automatically conclude that the mineral rights went with the land.

Researching pre-registration deeds and documents

Further enquiry was needed by reviewing any documents from before the land was registered. The family had a long association with the land and they were able to send me a couple of boxes of old deeds and conveyances.

With a little research I was able to identify the chain of title to the farm nearest to the area of interest to the mineral prospectors. From this it became apparent there was a 19th Century Conveyance containing an exception and reservation of mineral rights, in favour of the then current representative of a well-known Cornish landed family.

From my client’s perspective this was not welcome news. However, the ‘devil is in the detail’ with such old documentation. It was clear from the wording (very carefully set out in copperplate handwriting) that the surface owner, on suffering damage, destruction or loss as a result of mining activity founded on the reserved mineral rights, was entitled to proper compensation for such losses.

Indeed, the wording followed a familiar pattern common to many similar 19th Century documents: The view is generally taken that it is safe to proceed to acquire such land without the mineral rights being included, on the understanding that the provision for compensation is considered sufficient in the ‘market place’ and by those advising purchasers.

Therefore, whilst not being overly happy with the potential long-term ‘threat’ to their family’s land, there was some comfort to be gained from the knowledge that if the worst occurred, proper compensation would be payable.

In a time of increased activity around the exploitation of mineral rights in the South West, it is advisable to find out if mineral rights are owned by the surface owner or a third party ‘mineral lord’. It is also important to find out whether or not compensation would be payable in the event of mining occurring and resulting in the destruction of the surface of the land. If you need any help to work out who owns mineral rights in your land, please get in touch.