About the New Forest
A bit of history on our National Park .......
On the 1st of March 2005 the New Forest became a National Park, the first in England for many years and the first ever in the South East. This will bring greater protection and more opportunities to understand and enjoy this special place, for us and for future generations.
It is hard to imagine the New Forest without its famous ponies. But ponies aren't the only animals grazing in the New Forest - you will see donkeys and mules; cattle - including a small herd of highland cattle which create a lot of interest to visitors in the summer; pigs (generally in the autumn); and only very occasionally - sheep.
These animals are not wild, they are all owned by people referred to as 'Commoners'. Commoners of the New Forest are those who occupy land or property to which is attached one or more 'rights over the Forest'. There are several different 'rights' but the most important is the 'Common of Pasture' - the grazing of animals turned out in the open forest. Those who wish to exercise this right must apply to the Verderers' Clerk who first confirm the existence of the right and then allocate a brand for the animals. Once branded, they may be turned out into the Forest upon payment of a Marking Fee to the local Agister - Agisters police the heaths and woods, checking on the welfare of around 5000 animals year round.
About 300 commoners currently exercise this particular right. The pony or horse was an important rural economy before the car, and the tradition of keeping them provided a valuable income. Today, rather than work horses, the demand is for riding ponies, but only a handful of commoners are able to make their complete living from keeping stock.
Over 900 years ago William Conqueror designated the New Forest as a royal forest and hunting ground. Today, the Crown still owns most of the land within the Forest. William imposed legal powers to arrest settlement by the local inhabitants and these limitations remain in modified form to this day. The rights of Commoners must be taken into account, together with preservation and enhancement of the flora and fauna.
Today visitors enjoy walking and cycling and horse riding in this beautiful area. If you're interested you can also see the ponies being rounded up - for their health checks and also to be taken off the forest and perhaps sold.