The metric system of measurement was first given a legal basis in 1795 by the French Revolutionary government. The law of 18 Germinal, Year III (7 April 1795) defined five units of measure:
- The metre for length
- The are (100 m2) for area [of land]
- The stère (1 m3) for volume of stacked firewood
- The litre (1 dm3) for volumes of liquid
- The gram for mass
In 1960, when the metric system was updated as the International System of Units (SI), the are did not receive international recognition. The International Committee for Weights and Measures (CIPM) makes no mention of the are in the current (2006) definition of the SI, but classifies the hectare as a "Non-SI unit accepted for use with the International System of Units".
In 1972, the (EEC) passed directive 71/354/EEC, which catalogued the units of measure that might be used within the Community. The units that were catalogued replicated the recommendations of the CGPM, supplemented by a few other units including the are (and implicitly the hectare) whose use was limited to the measurement of land.
Many UK farmers, especially older ones, still use the acre for everyday calculations, and convert to hectares only for official (especially European Union) paperwork. Farm fields can have very long histories which are resistant to change, with names such as "the six acre field" stretching back hundreds of years and across generations of family farmers. Some younger agricultural workers are now beginning to think in hectares as their "first language", though this is more typical of professional consultants and managers than of traditional farming and land-owning families, and in some circles may be viewed as a social class indicator.