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The Importance of the New Forest, Southern England

Updated on October 28, 2014
Young New Forest pony grazing
Young New Forest pony grazing | Source

The New Forest - Important for Conservation of Flora and Fauna

The New Forest, in Hampshire, Southern England, is the largest tract of lowland common land in Britain making it of great importance for the environment and conservation as it covers a range of habitats from boggy valley bottoms to dry heathland.

Due to its long history and in spite of its name, the New Forest, has a large area of heathland as well as ancient mixed forest including oaks and other native species and more recent plantations of trees managed by the Forestry Commission.

Map of the New Forest, Hampshire, England, UK

Area in green shows the New Forest National Park
Area in green shows the New Forest National Park | Source

The New Forest's Vital Statistics

  • The New Forest National Park cover 219 square miles (or 56,651 hectares).
  • Approximately 30,000 people live in the New Forest National Park, making it the most densely populated National Park in the country.
  • Calculating visitors is difficult but it is estimated that there are 10.5 million people who visit for just the day while 3 million visit for holidays (vacations).
  • There are approximately 6,500 animals using the right to pasturage, ie grazing in the New Forest. These are ponies, donkeys, cattle and pigs.
  • About half of the National Park is forested, about 23,500 hectares (one hectare is about 2.47 acres) and, of this, approximately 10,000 hectares are ancient, well-established trees rather than plantations.
  • The New Forest contains the highest concentration of very old trees in Europe.

A Vital Valley Bog

Clayhill Bottom in the New Forest - one of the vital valley bogs
Clayhill Bottom in the New Forest - one of the vital valley bogs | Source

Conservation & Ecology in the New Forest - Contains Rare and Endangered Lowland Habitats

The New Forest has been widely recognised as a national heritage worthy of conservation. It is the largest tract of lowland unsown land in the country and it contains several kinds of lowland habitat rare or endangered elsewhere. These include

  • valley bogs
  • wet heaths
  • deciduous woodland

The value of the New Forest to conservation and science is its size and continuity of habitats. Also Common Rights have prevented modern farming methods being used and so changing the ecology.

Heathland
This is threatened and becoming increasingly rare throughout Europe. Its rarity is due to the expansion of towns, agricultural reclamation and afforestation. It is also threatened by recreation which can destroy its usefulness as a habitat. The survival of the Forest's heathland is a consequence of the traditional pastoral economy and its past status as a Royal Forest which prevented wholesale enclosure.

The size of the heathland in the the Forest is seen as the best guarantee of survival of many rare and endangered species. It can support a larger population than in other more fragmented areas and this alone increases the chances of species survival. The size also means that a catastophic event like a fire is less likely to destroy the whole habitat and thereby the whole population of a species.

Valley bogs
These are an important habitat found in the New Forest. In other areas these have been drained or damaged by agricultural chemicals. They provide graded environments from the wettest areas to dry heathland and therefore form an almost complete ecosystem. The undamaged nature of these has given rise to considerable diversity of species of flora.

New Forest Woodland

New Forest Woodland
New Forest Woodland | Source

The New Forest's Management Over Centuries

A Continuous Range of Habitats Make it Valuable

Parts of the New Forest woodland are thought to be a survival of the original 'wildwood' covering most of Britain after the last Ice Age. All the woodland outside the modern enclosures are a result of medieval woodland grazing. Because of the ancient nature of the woodland, the diversity of flora and fauna is considerably greater than in more recently established woodland.

In Britain ancient woodland is under threat. Since the end of the Second World War, about half of what remained in 1945 has now gone. Even the fact that dead trees are left where they fall is important to conservation of species of birds, insects and lichens.

Whilst these habitats are important individually, they must be considered as part of the whole. The margins of the different types of habitats are important for many species, and the continuity is valuable for those that require more than one type of habitat.

It is therefore as a continuous area of habitats which merge into each other that the New Forest is so important to conservation. It is this that must be protected from piecemeal development and fragmentation because it is feared that each small encroachment will gradually diminish the Forest's importance and ability to sustain such a rich and diverse variety of species."

A New Forest car park
A New Forest car park | Source

Authorised Car Parks in the New Forest.

Parking is not generally allowed on any of the roads in the New Forest and you will find rocks or logs along the verges to prevent cars pulling off the road and parking. This protects the verges from damage and helps to protect the animals too.

Instead, there are many car parks throughout the New Forest and most are set in delightful scenery, some with streams nearby. All give easy access for walks in the Forest.

Official New Forest Video

Follow the Country Code - Obey the Rules

Surprising to many people, there are very few rights of way in the New Forest. Instead there is a general permission that allows people to access most areas. Just as in other places, visitors should obey the country code:

  • Shut gates
  • Don't feed grazing animals, particularly do not stop on the roads to feed them - many are killed by cars each year.
  • Don't approach grazing animals - they are usually fine if you keep your distance but may become aggressive if you get too close.
  • When driving, keep your speed below 40mph because of the danger of animals on the road.
  • You can cycle in the New Forest but keep to designated cycleways - cycling does cause damage!
  • Stay out of areas where the signs forbid entry.
  • Don't light fires except in designated barbecue areas and make sure cigarettes are extinguished completely.
    • In dry summers, the Forest often burns and large areas can be affected. Although the aftermath of these fires can look terrible, it is surprising how quickly the Forest regenerates. Even so, don't let it be your fire or carelessly discarded cigarette that causes a large scale fire.
  • Use litter bins or take litter home with you.
  • Keep dogs under control especially near animals.
  • Only park in authorised carparks.
  • Camping is only permitted in authorised campsites.

Things to Do and See in the New Forest

New Forest Heathland and Forest

A track in running across New Forest heathland towards a forested area
A track in running across New Forest heathland towards a forested area | Source

The History of the New Forest - From the Norman Invasion to the 16th Century

It is thought that areas of the New Forest were originally part of the primeval forest that once covered much of Britain after the last Ice Age. Evidence indicates that Saxon and Danish kings used it for hunting but it is certain that after the Norman Conquest it was given the status of an official forest.

At that time, a forest was a large area of land, not necessarily wooded, in which the animals were protected by a special law, ie Forest Law, aimed at preserving game. The Domesday Book says of the New Forest "...that by 1086 William I [the Conqueror] had imposed Forest Law over his own land and that of other owners in the area." Because of this, private lands could no longer be enclosed and farmed. Instead they were turned over to grazing and taxation was reduced in exchange.

Special courts upheld Forest Law. This is the origin of the Court of the Verderers which is still in existence and based in Lyndhurst. Hunting in royal forests was the sole prerogative of the king and his licensees. There were severe penalties for poaching: the Anglo Saxon Chronicles says "...whoever killed a hart or hind should be blinded". By 1217 these harsh penalties were softened by the Charta de Foresta and fines were imposed instead. Trees were also protected but there were common rights to firewood and windblown trees.

By the beginning of the 16th century, the New Forest was no longer so important for hunting by the monarch and Forest Law was imposed as a revenue gathering exercise rather than to protect animals and trees. The Forest's oak trees were now important for ship building and by the 17th century, oak plantations were established to replace the ones being felled.

A Track Through the New Forest

A New Forest Track
A New Forest Track | Source

More New Forest History - Up to the end of the 19th century

By the beginning of the 18th century, the Court of Verderers had declined in importance and most authority was vested in the Office of Woods, responsible for timber production and answerable to the Treasury.

More Grazing Pasture in Exchange for Enclosures
In the mid 19th century, the Commoners (people entitled to Common Rights - see below) petitioned for the removal of deer so that more pasture would be available for grazing their stock.

An Act was passed allowing this but, in exchange, the government wanted to enclose 10,000 acres in addition to the 6,000 acres of enclosures already allowed under previous Acts. Opposition turned these into rolling enclosures rather than permanent ones, ie when trees had grown sufficiently to withstand grazing animals, the enclosures would be removed.

The New Forest Under Threat of Deforestation
Disputes between the Office of Woods and Commoners over enclosures continued unabated until the whole matter was referred to a Committee of the House of Lords.

They decided that there was no solution to the arguments that had continued since time immemorial and the answer was to deforest the area and partition up the forest. Compensation would be paid to landowners but tenant farmers would get nothing.

Fortunately, the London to Dorchester railway had opened up the New Forest to visitors and this decision caused a public outcry enabling a Mr Fawcett to get a Bill through Parliament forbidding any further enclosure or planting until the whole question was re-examined.

The New Railways Save the Forest
In 1877 the New Forest Act was passed upholding the rights of Commoners and enforcing the rule that no more than 16,000 acres was to be enclosed at any one time.

Additionally, it reconstituted the Court of the Verderers and gave it the power to make by-laws and levy fees on Commoners for grazing their animals.

The Act also made provision to preserve the unenclosed woods, so laying the foundation for further Acts of Parliament on the subject. Further disputes occurred and changes have been made but the 1877 New Forest Act preserved and protected the Forest.

Cattle roaming freely in the New Forest
Cattle roaming freely in the New Forest | Source

Common Rights in the New Forest

Most people who know anything about the New Forest will know about the ponies freely grazing there.

The right to graze animals is one of the Common Rights under ancient forest law.

These rights attach to property in the forest so anybody living in a house that has Common Rights attached, gets these rights automatically and they apply equally to property owners and tenants.

The rights are:

Turbary - the right to cut turf or peat from the heath for fuel. There were specific rules governing the size and way it was cut.

Pannage or Mast - the right to turn out pigs between 25th September and 22nd November each year to feed on acorns and beechnuts. Not only did this fatten pigs for Christmas, it also prevented ponies and cattle gorging on acorns which could cause inflammation and death.

Estover - the right to bundles (called cords) of wood 8ft long by 4ft deep x 4ft high.

Common Pasture - the best known of the Common Rights, which is to turn out ponies, cattle and donkeys to graze in the open forest.

Common or Marl - marl is a mixture of carbonate of lime and clay used as a compost to improve the acid forest soil.

Fern - this was the right to gather ferns after the 29th September when the sap was no longer in full flow so it could be gathered without killing the plants. It was used for litter for animals.

Nowadays, only the rights to Common Pasture and Mast are practised to any extent.

© 2008 Carol Fisher

Have you visited the New Forest?

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    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 6 years ago from Southampton, UK

      I completed my lens on The New Forest last week, and added a link back to this one. It's very different to yours, and I hope that between us we have covered the best of what The New Forest has to offer. It is after all a wonderful part of Southern England.

    • profile image

      mgnelson 6 years ago

      Beautiful place, I would love to visit one day. As part of their conservation efforts, do they use solar panels for power at their ranger offices?

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      Yes and it is a very special place indeed, beautifully showcased here.

    • makingamark profile image

      Katherine Tyrrell 6 years ago from London

      Another great place in the UK and another great lens! Blessed and added to The Best of the UK. I note also how you get people to navigate to the next page. Have yiu tried the New Yorker theme where the tabs are more obvious?

    • EmmaCooper LM profile image

      EmmaCooper LM 7 years ago

      I have, it's a lovely place :)

    • MagpieNest profile image

      MagpieNest 7 years ago

      Yes we're frequent visitors. Have lived nearby for over 10 years. Lovely place to go walking with the family.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 7 years ago from Central Florida

      Very picturesque. There was a lot that I didn't know about the area. Thanks for all the information.

    • Stazjia profile image
      Author

      Carol Fisher 8 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      @jennysue19: Of course, you're right, Jenny. Most of these can be found in the New Forest (I'm not sure about dormice because I think these are very rare everywhere) so I should include them on the list.

    • jennysue19 profile image

      jennysue19 8 years ago

      Certainly have visited - many times! Carol, you forgot otters in your list of mammals, They are getting a good hold all over the UK again since we stopped hunting them with dogs and I have seen one on the banks of the Beaulieu river, so I guess that counts. Also foxes, weasels, stoats and voles and possibly dormice? And what about rabbits and hares?

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 9 years ago from Southampton, UK

      CONGRATULATIONS. Your lens has been added as a featured lens on my "I've Been There" lens. Only lenses that are worthy get listed, I'm so pleased you made it.

    • RaintreeAnnie profile image

      RaintreeAnnie 9 years ago from UK

      Really lovely lens. Well researched, packed with great information and very interesting to read. 5 stars and adding to faves :)

    • profile image

      spiritartist 9 years ago

      Love this lens! 5*'s and a lensroll from me!

    • Mihaela Vrban profile image

      Mihaela Vrban 9 years ago from Croatia

      You really did a great research!

      Here you listed great informations and pictures!

      5* worth!

    • The Homeopath profile image

      The Homeopath 9 years ago

      It just looks idyllic. I've been to London and the Salisbury Plain, but never farther south, although I would love to someday.

    • profile image

      beachbum_gabby 9 years ago

      congratulation for being the Responsible Tourism Award winner! I love this environment-friendly place. 5*

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      5 stars for this info..

    • profile image

      Steve-SEO-UK 9 years ago

      I can walk out of my front door in Totton, get in the car and be in the midst of the New Forest within 5 minutes. In fact, my wife and I have gone on many a cycle ride through the forest. Wildlife is amazing. Really do appreciate living on the doorstep of the New Forest. Great Lens. 5* and Favorite.

      Steve.

      An Arsenal of Highly Effective Ways To Advertise Your Business

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 9 years ago

      While I've never had the opportunity to travel to England, I feel I know so much now about the New Forest thanks to your wonderful presentation in your lens. Thanks for taking time to write this resourceful lens.

    • profile image

      totalhealth 9 years ago

      Another nice place to visit. Thanks for thanks for the info

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 9 years ago

      When I think of England, I automaticly think of London. Its nice to be reminded that there is so much more to see and experience.

      Great lens.

      5*

      Lizzy

    • CliveAnderson LM profile image

      CliveAnderson LM 9 years ago

      I have visited the New Forest on many occasions now and think your lens is of great value and importance. It is clear to see you have put a lot of thought and effort into it. I wish you every success.

      Kind Regards

      Clive Anderson

    • Jobanjo profile image

      Jobanjo 9 years ago

      Super lens ... a great reminder that Britain has some beautiful places to visit! :)

    • profile image

      LeslieBrenner 9 years ago

      Very nice lens, 5 stars. It brings back memories of when I drove from Brighton Beach to Lake Bala, northern Wales, and stayed at farm bed and breakfasts one summer.

    • rebeccahiatt profile image

      rebeccahiatt 9 years ago

      Very nice!

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 9 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Very nice lens, 5***** I have a New Forest lens also that I have been working on, will make sure I don't duplicate everything that you have here, and will lensroll this into mine.

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Super Lens 5* and a favourite and welcome to Travelmania group!

      Tapir Travel

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 9 years ago

      Looks very nice! Welcome to All Things Travel.