Aristocrats own third of land in England and Wales

Nearly a third of land in England and Wales is still owned by a small group of aristocrats, research indicated today.

Wealthy individuals and their estates are thought to control about 20 million of the country's 60 million acres.

Research by Country Life magazine found that 36,000 members of the Country Land & Business Association, whose members are mainly individuals and estates, collectively own half of all rural land in England and Wales.

The Forestry Commission is the country's biggest landowner, holding nearly 2.6 million acres on behalf of the Government, which recently announced plans to privatise it.

It is followed by the National Trust, which has 630,000 acres and 350 historic properties, while the Defence Estates, which holds land for the Ministry of Defence, has 593,000 acres, and pension funds collectively control 550,000 acres.

About 500,000 acres of land in the UK is owned by utility companies, including water and electricity firms and railways, while the Crown Estate has 358,000 acres, worth more than £6.6 billion, and the RSPB has 321,000 acres.

The Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry is the country's largest individual landowner, and the eighth largest landowner overall, controlling 240,000 acres in Scotland and Northamptonshire.

He is followed by the Duke of Atholl's trusts, which has 145,700 acres in Perthshire, and the Prince of Wales, who has 133,602 acres.

The research found there had been a shift in land ownership during the past century away from family estates to corporate estates.

It said seven of the 11 largest landowners in modern Britain did not exist 100 years ago, and all of these were corporate estates such as the National Trust.