There can be few other places in England where the ancient landscape has remained so unchanged.
There can be few other places in England where the ancient landscape has remained so unchanged. In 1079 when William The Conqueror named this 145 square miles his ‘new hunting forest’, little could he imagine that nearly 1000 years later his ‘Nova Foresta’ would still retain its mystery and romance.
The ancient system established by William The Conqueror to protect and manage the ancient woodlands and open heathland is still in place today through the efforts of Verderers, Agisters and Commoners – literally the judges, stockmen and land users of the forest.
As a working forest the trees, heathland, ponies and deer are closely managed, read more at https://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-8yhbwm
Verderers of the New Forest
The role of the Verderers of the New Forest is to: protect and administer the New Forest’s unique agricultural commoning practices; conserve its traditional landscape, wildlife and aesthetic character, including its flora and fauna, peacefulness, natural beauty and cultural heritage; safeguard a viable future for commoning upon which the foregoing depends.
In the 17th & 18th centuries the Verderers’ powers were bolstered to help with the planting and preservation of oak for ship-building. Powers to deal with trespassers and abuses by Forest officers were also strengthened.
The Verderers derive their offices, powers and responsibilities from an Act of Parliament in 1877. http://www.verderers.org.uk/policies.html
The Court comprises the Official Verderer (Chairman), five elected Verderers representing the Commoners and four appointed Verderers: one each appointed by the Forestry Commission, DEFRA, the National Park Authority and Natural England. The post of Official Verderer is a statutory appointment made by Her Majesty the Queen.
The Verderers office and court is located at The Queen’s House in Lyndhurst. The Verderers court sits once a month and presides over the management of the New Forest.
The Agisters are employees of the Verderers. Their work is to assist in the management of Commoners’ stock in the Forest. Specifically, they:
- watch over the Forest to ensure that the owners of depastured stock, and others, meet the requirements of the Verderers in respect of stock welfare, payment of marking fees, etc.;
- inform the Verderers of any possible breaches of the Verderers’ byelaws;
- attend road accidents and other incidents involving commoners’ animals; deal with injured animals at the scene and humanely destroying animals if necessary;
- organise the construction and ongoing maintenance of stock pounds within their area;
- arrange and manage the rounding up of ponies and cattle in the autumn and at other times as required;
- by regular inspection on foot, vehicle and horseback, an Agister will acquire, and maintain, a thorough and up to date knowledge of depastured stock and of ground conditions.
Commoners of the New Forest are people who own or rent land or property which has an attached right over the Forest. Commoning is an ancient practice, not just confined to the New Forest but all over Britain. When William the Conqueror set aside the New Forest as a royal hunting reserve in 1079. The existing people of the Forest were then no longer free to fence in areas of land. As this would be detrimental to the king’s sport. In order to appease the locals, Commoners were given certain rights, some of which are still valid today.
• Common of pasture: the right to allow ponies, cattle, donkeys and mules to be turned out on the Forest.
• Common of pasture for sheep: (infrequently exercised.)
• Common of mast: the right to turn out pigs in the autumn. This practice is called Pannage, which not only feeds the pigs but helps stop ponies and cattle from eating too many acorns, which can poison them.
• Estovers (Fuelwood): the free supply of a stipulated amount of firewood to certain properties.
• Common of marl: the right to dig clay to improve agricultural land. (this right is no longer exercised.)
• Common of turbary: the right to cut peat turves for the Commoner’s personal use.
These commons rights are carefully controlled and governed by the court of the Verderer’s of the New Forest.
The most important right is the Common of Pasture. This right to allow stock to graze the Forest, largely unfenced, is arguably why the New Forest is so loved by millions of people. These ponies are the New Forest’s super stars. They have literally sculpted the Forest into the rich natural diverse landscape that we love today.
In 2011 there were about 7500 depastured (turned out to the Forest) stock. Including 4595 ponies, 2394 cattle, 341 pigs, 135 sheep and 128 donkeys.
Every year, New Forest ponies, foals & donkeys are rounded up and sold at the Beaulieu Road Pony Sales. http://www.nfls.org.uk/