New Forest | Chineland
Monday 20th May 2024

New Forest


New Forest ponies

The New Forest was created as a royal forest by William I in about 1079 for the royal hunt, mainly of deer. It was created at the expense of more than 20 small hamlets and isolated farmsteads; hence it was ‘new’ in his time as a single compact area. According to Florence of Worcester (d. 1118), the forest was known before the Norman

Conquest as Ytene; the word “Ytene” being the genitive plural of “Yt” meaning “Jute”, thereby giving “of the Jutes”. The Jutes were one of the early Anglo Saxon tribal groups who colonised this area of southern Hampshire. It was first recorded as “Nova Foresta” in the Domesday Book in1086, where a section devoted to it is interpolated between lands of the king’s things and the town of Southampton; it is the only forest that the book describes in detail. “Probably no action of the early Norman kings is more notorious than their creation of the New Forest”, observes H. R. Loyn, who adds that the picture of evicted peasants and houses burned is uncritical. Twelfth-century chroniclers alleged that William had created the Forest by evicting the inhabitants of 36 parishes, reducing a flourishing district to a wasteland; however, this account is thought dubious by most historians, as the poor soil in much of the Forest is believed to have been incapable of supporting large-scale agriculture, and significant areas appear to have always been uninhabited.


Morris Dancers at ‘High Corner Inn’ New Forest

Two of William’s sons died in the Forest: Prince Richard in 1081 and King William II (William Rufus) in 1100. Local folklore asserted that this was punishment for the crimes committed by William when he created his New Forest; a 17th-century writer provides exquisite detail: “In this County [Hantshire] is New-Forest, formerly called Ytene, being about 30 miles in compass; in which said tract William the Conqueror (for the making of the said Forest a harbour for Wild-beasts for his Game) caused 36 Parish Churches, with all the Houses thereto belonging, to be pulled down, and the poor Inhabitants left succourless of house or home. But this wicked act did not long go unpunished, for his Sons felt the smart thereof; Richard being blasted with a pestilent Air; Rufus shot through with an Arrow; and Henry his Grand-child, by Robert his eldest son, as he pursued his Game, was hanged among the boughs, and so dyed. This Forest at present affordeth great variety of Game, where his Majesty oft-times withdraws himself for his divertisement.


Forest ponies

The reputed spot of Rufus’s death is marked with a stone known as the Rufus Stone. John White, Bishop of Winchester, said of the forest: “From God and Saint King Rufus did Churches take, From Citizens town-court, and mercate place, From Farmer lands: New Forrest for to make, In Beaulew tract, where whiles the King in chase Pursues the hart, just vengeance comes apace, And King pursues. Tirrell him seing not, Unwares him flew with dint of arrow shot.”

The common rights were confirmed by statute in 1698. The New Forest became a source of timber for the Royal Navy, and plantations were created in the 18th century for this purpose. In the Great Storm of 1703, about 4000 oak trees were lost. The naval plantations encroached on the rights of the Commoners, but the Forest gained new protection under an Act of Parliament in 1877. The New Forest Act 1877 confirmed the historic rights of the Commoners and prohibited the enclosure of more than 65 km2 (25 sq mi) at any time. It also reconstituted the Court of Verderers as representatives of the Commoners (rather than the Crown).

As of 2005, roughly 90% of the New Forest is still owned by the Crown. The Crown lands have been managed by the Forestry Commission since 1923 and most of the Crown lands now fall inside the new National Park.


Bucklers Hard

Felling of broadleaved trees, and their replacement by conifers, began during the First World War to meet the wartime demand for wood. Further encroachments were made during the Second World War. This process is today being reversed in places, with some plantations being returned to heath land or broadleaved woodland.

Further New Forest Acts followed in 1949, 1964 and 1970. The New Forest became a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1971, and was granted special status as the New Forest Heritage Area in 1985, with additional planning controls added in 1992. The New Forest was proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in June 1999, and it became a National Park in 2005.

Common Rights
Forest Laws were enacted to preserve the New Forest as a location for royal deer hunting, and interference with the King’s deer and its forage was punished. But the inhabitants of the area (commoners) had pre-existing rights of common: to turn horses and cattle (but only rarely sheep) out into the Forest to graze (common pasture), to gather fuel wood (estovers), to cut peat for fuel (turbary), to dig clay (marl), and to turn out pigs between September and November to eat fallen acorns and beechnuts (pannage or mast). There were also licences granted to gather bracken after 29 September as litter for animals (fern). Along with grazing, pannage is still an important part of the Forest’s ecology. Pigs can eat acorns without a problem, whereas to ponies and cattle large numbers of acorns can be poisonous. Pannage always lasts 60 days but the start date varies according to the weather – and when the acorns fall. The Verderers decide when pannage will start each year. At other times the pigs must be taken in and kept on the owner’s land, with the exception that pregnant sows, known as privileged sows, are always allowed out providing they are not a nuisance and return to the Commoner’s holding at night (they must be levant and couchant there). This last is an established practice rather than a formal right. The principle of levancy and couchancy applied generally to the right of pasture as it was unstinted but commoners must have backup land, outside the Forest, to accommodate these depastured animals if necessary, for example during the Foot and Mouth epidemic.

Pigs by Gillian Moy 2

Pigs in forest. © Gillian Moy

Commons rights are attached to particular plots of land (or in the case of turbary, to particular hearths), and different land has different rights – and some of this land is some distance from the Forest itself. Rights to graze ponies and cattle are not for a fixed number of animals, as is often the case on other commons. Instead a marking fee is paid for each animal each year by the owner. The marked animal’s tail is trimmed by the local agister (Verderers’ official), with each of the four or five Forest agisters using a different trimming pattern. Ponies are branded with the owner’s brand mark; cattle may be branded, or nowadays may have the brand mark on an ear tag. Grazing of commoners’ ponies and cattle is an essential part of the management of the Forest, helping to maintain the internationally important heath land, bog, grassland and wood-pasture habitats and their associated wildlife. All the pigs in the Forest are owned by Commoners. Each year they are allowed onto open forest land for 60 days, known as pannage season, to eat acorns which would otherwise poison the ponies.

Recently this ancient practice has come under pressure as the rising house prices in the area have stopped local commoning families from moving into new homes which have the rights attached. Thus the next generation cannot become commoners until their parents die or move and pass their house, and the attaching rights, to their children.

As well as providing a visually remarkable and historic landscape, the ecological value of the New Forest is enhanced by the relatively large areas of lowland habitats, lost elsewhere, which have survived. There are several kinds of important lowland habitat including valley bogs, wet heaths, dry heaths and deciduous woodland. The area contains a profusion of rare wildlife, including the New Forest cicada, the only cicada native to Great Britain. The wet heaths are important for rare plants, such as marsh gentian and marsh clubmoss. Several species of sundew are found, as well as many unusual insect species, including the Southern damselfly and the mole cricket, both rare

in Britain. In 2009, 500 adult SouthernNew Forest Cicada


New Forest Cicadadamselflies were captured and released in the Venn Ottery nature reserve in Devon, which is owned and managed by the Devon Wildlife Trust.[22]

Specialist heathland birds are widespread, including Dartford Warbler, Woodlark, Northern Lapwing, Eurasian Curlew, European Nightjar, Eurasian Hobby, European Stonechat, Common Redstart and Tree Pipit. As in much of Britain Common Snipe and Meadow Pipit are common as wintering birds, but in the Forest they still also breed in many of the bogs and heaths respectively. Woodland birds include Wood Warbler, Stock Pigeon, European Honey Buzzard and Northern Goshawk. Common Buzzard is very common and Common Raven is spreading. Birds seen more rarely include Red Kite, wintering Great Grey Shrike and Hen Harrier and migrating Ring Ouzel and Wheatear.

All three British native species of snake inhabit the Forest. The adder is the most common, being found on open heath and grassland. The grass snake prefers the damper environment of the valley mires. The rare smooth snake occurs in sandy hillsides with heather and gorse. It was mainly adders which were caught by Brusher Mills (1840–1905), the “New Forest Snake Catcher”. He caught many thousands in his lifetime, sending some to London Zoo as food for their animals. A pub in Brockenhurst is named The Snakecatcher in his memory. All British snakes are now legally protected, and so the New Forest snakes are no longer caught. A programme to reintroduce the sand lizard started in 1989 and the great crested newt already breeds in many locations.

Commoners’ cattle, ponies and donkeys roam throughout the open heath and much of the woodland, and it is largely their grazing that maintains the open character of the Forest. They are also frequently seen in the Forest villages where home and shop owners must take care to keep them out of gardens and shops. The New Forest Pony is one of the indigenous horse breeds of the British Isles, and is one of the New Forest’s most famous attractions – most of the Forest ponies are of this breed, but there are also some Shetlands and their crossbreeds. Cattle are of various breeds, most commonly Galloways and their cross-breeds, but also various other hardy types such as Highlands, Herefords, Dexters, Kerrys and British Whites. The pigs used for pannage are now of various breeds, but the New Forest was the original home of the Wessex Saddleback, now extinct in Britain.

Numerous deer live in the Forest; they are usually rather shy and tend to stay out of sight when people are around, but are surprisingly bold at night, even when a car drives past. Fallow deer are the most common, followed by roe deer and red deer. There are also smaller populations of the introduced sika deer and muntjac.

The Red Squirrel survived in the Forest until the 1970s – longer than almost anywhere else in lowland Britain (though it still occurs on the nearby Isle of Wight and Brownsea Island in Poole harbour). It is now fully replaced in the Forest by the introduced North American Grey Squirrel. The European Polecat has recolonised the western edge of the Forest in recent years. The European Otter occurs along watercourses, as well as the introduced American Mink.

The New Forest is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), an EU Special Area of Conservation (SAC), a Special Protection Area for birds (SPA) and a Ramsar Site: it also has its own Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP)

Courtesy Wikipedia

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