Co-ownership of land by family members can be intensely problematic if they do not see eye to eye as to the use to which it should be put. A High Court case on point focused on a naturalist's ambition to 'rewild' farmland he and his brother had jointly inherited from their father.
The naturalist said that the seven plots of land had been in his family for over 600 years and objected to his brother's proposal to sell five of them to a neighbour for £845,000, far in excess of their market value. He argued that they should be retained as a wildlife haven for the benefit of future generations of the family. His brother, however, was in poor health and wished to proceed with the sale in order to provide for his family and his retirement.
In ruling on the dispute – which had led to a total breakdown in relations between the brothers – the Court noted that the land had been left to them on trust for sale and there was no evidence that their father had expressed a wish that it be kept in the family and used for conservation purposes. Other plots of land inherited by the brothers had been sold off after their father's death in order to pay off debts owed by his estate and provide a capital sum for his widow.
In breaking the impasse between the brothers, the Court noted that, given the very poor relations between them, the naturalist had acknowledged that they could not continue to jointly own the land. The Court opened the way for the sale of the five plots and directed that the two remaining plots be divided between the brothers in such a manner as to avoid them sharing a boundary. That outcome at least preserved part of the land in family ownership.