LANDOWNERS across the region are being notified of a Church of England bid to register ownership of mineral rights under their property.

The Land Registry has served notices on scores of owners following a change in the law that requires holders of mineral rights to register them by October this year - or risk losing them.

Much of the land affected may once have been owned by the Church, which retained the mineral rights when the land was sold – in some cases centuries ago.

It is understood the letters have come as a shock to some landowners who feared the Church may want to exercise their rights and begin mining for minerals.

However, Church of England bosses have stressed that the letters are just part of an administration exercise.

A Church spokeswoman said: “We are simply registering our mineral interests in land with the Land Registry requirements, as any responsible landowner is doing before the end of October deadline.

“The Church Commissioners began a programme of registering all of their rural holdings following the introduction of the Land Registration Act 2002.

“This does not create any new interests or rights and is confined to properly registering what the commissioners have in most cases owned for many years, and in some cases for centuries.”

Barbara Smith, who farms near Toft Hill, County Durham, said the letter from the Land Registry had caused them concern.

“It came out of the blue. We looked on the internet and spoke to other farmers in the area who had also received one.

“In the end we took the decision just to ignore it.”

James Copeland, environment and land use adviser for the NFU North-East, said it had provided advice to several members who were concerned after receiving letters.

He added: “If people are getting these letters and there is concern, the first thing is to check with your solicitor to ascertain who owns the mineral rights.”

Owners can challenge an application if they think the Church’s claim is unfounded.

The Church is not claiming rights to coal or petroleum, which were nationalised, nor gold and silver, which belong to the Crown.

It also denied the registering of mineral rights was linked to the controversial extraction of gas and oil by fracking.