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The New Forest is an area of southern Englandmarker which includes the largest remaining tracts of unenclosed pasture land, heathland and forest in the heavily-populated south east of England. It covers south-west Hampshire and extends into south-east Wiltshiremarker.

The name also refers to the New Forest National Park which has similar boundaries. Additionally the New Forest local government districtmarker is a subdivision of Hampshire which covers most of the Forest, and some nearby areas although it is no longer the planning authority for the National Park itself.There are many villages dotted around the area, and several small towns in the Forest and around its edges.

The highest point in the New Forest is Telegraph Hill. Its summit is at above sea level.


Like much of England, the New Forest was originally woodland, but parts were cleared for cultivation from the Bronze Age onwards. The poor quality of the soil in the New Forest meant that the cleared areas turned into heathland "waste" that was probably used as an inter communal heath-wood facilty.

There are around 250 round barrows within its boundaries, and scattered boiling mounds, and it also includes about 150 scheduled ancient monuments.

The New Forest was created as a royal forest by William I in about 1079 for the private hunting of (mainly) deer. It was created at the expense of more than 20 small settlements/farms; 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 the Great Ytene Forest; the word "Ytene" meaning '"Juten" or "of 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 in 1086, and is the only forest that the book describes in detail. Twelfth-century chroniclers alleged that William had created the Forest by evicting the inhabitants of thirty-six 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.

Two of William's sons died in the Forest, Prince Richard in 1081 and King William II in 1100. Local folklore asserted that this was punishment for the crimes committed by William when he created his New Forest, a seventeenth 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."

The reputed spot of Rufus's death is marked with a stone known as the Rufus Stone.
The Rufus Stone Memorial

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."

Formal commons 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 1703marker, about four thousand 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 at any time. It also reconstituted the Court of Verderers as representatives of the Commoners (rather than the Crown).

As of 2005, roughly ninety per cent 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.

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 heathland or broadleaved woodland. Rhododendron remains a problem.
WW2 remains at Ibsley

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 UNESCOmarker World Heritage Site in June 1999, and it became a National Park in 2005.

Common rights

A miniature pony in the Forest
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. However, 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 (estovermarker), 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 not a true Right, however, so much as an established practice. 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 as during the Foot and Mouth epidemic.

Cow eating winter feed, Longdown Inclosure.
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 certain 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.The grazing done by the commoners' ponies and cattle is an essential part of the management of the Forest, helping to maintain the internationally important heathland, bog, grassland and wood-pasture habitats and their associated wildlife.


The New Forest Heritage Area covers about , and the New Forest SSSI covers almost , making it the largest contiguous area of un-sown vegetation in lowland Britain. It includesroughly:
  • of broadleaved woodland
  • of heathland and grassland
  • of wet heathland
  • of tree plantations (inclosures) established since the 18th century, including planted by the Forestry Commission since the 1920s.

It is drained to the south by two rivers, the Lymington Rivermarker and Beaulieu Rivermarker, and to the west by the Dockens Water, Hucklesbrook, Linbrook and other streams.

The New Forest Coast

Groynes Protecting Hurst Castle.
The New Forest coast extends for 26 miles in length making it up to 76% of Hampshire's total coastline (33 miles). This 33 miles is a very conservative value taken as the crow flies from the Hampshire-Dorset border to Chichester Harbour; if one follows the high water mark through every creek and inlet of every harbour and estuary the distance traversed becomes some 230 miles.

As with any coastline in England the area where the New Forest meets the sheltered waterway of the solent contains a wealth of information about human development and changing landscapes.

The New Forest coastal zone contains a wide range of environments including open water, extensive mudflat and saltmarsh, offshore sandbanks and tidal estuaries. All of these have been influenced and shaped by the people travelling through and living in the area, their settlements and industries, resulting in a diverse coastal heritage.

A number of prominent coastal trades and activities have developed along the New Forest coast, including saltworking, shipbuilding, smuggling, iron working, fishing, maritime trade and national defence.

The New Forest is the most densely populated national park, and this has inevitably left various marks on the coast. The coast is not a barrier or boundary to human endeavour, rather an extension of the terrestrial resource: a richly varied area that has been managed and exploited over time.

Known discoveries of human activity dating from prehistoric periods 125,000 years ago, to the Cold War illustrate the possible protential of the yet-to-be recorded evidence, which is the New Forest National Park is aiming to uncover and publicise through the New Forest Coastal Heritage Project.


Picnic area in the New Forest
As well as providing a visually remarkable and historic landscape, the ecological value of the New Forest is particularly great because of the relatively large areas of lowland habitats, lost elsewhere, which have survived. The area contains 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 Cicadetta montana, the only cicada native to Great Britain. The wet heaths are important for rare plants, such as marsh gentian Gentiana pneumonanthe and marsh clubmoss Lycopodiella inundata. Several species of sundew may be found in the Forest, and the area is also the habitat of many unusual insect species, including Southern damselfly (Coenagrion mercuriale), and the mole cricket Gryllotalpa gryllotalpa (both rare in Britain). In 2009, 500 adult Southern Damselflys were captured and released in the Venn Ottery nature reserve in Devonmarker. This nature reserve is owned and managed by the Devon Wildlife Trust.

Specialist heathland birds are widespread, including Dartford Warbler (Silvia undata), Woodlark (Lullula arborea), Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata), European Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus), Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo), European Stonechat (Saxicola rubecola), Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) and Tree Pipit (Anthus sylvestris). As in much of Britain Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) and Meadow Pipit (Anthus trivialis) 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 (Phylloscopus sibilatrix), Stock Pigeon (Columba oenas), Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus) and Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis). Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) is very common and Common Raven (Corvus corax) is spreading. Birds seen more rarely include Red Kite (Milvus milvus), wintering Great Grey Shrike (Lanius exubitor) and Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) and migrating Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) and Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe).

All three British native species of snake inhabit the Forest. The adder (Vipera berus) is the most common, being found on open heath and grassland. The grass snake (Natrix natrix) prefers the damper environment of the valley mires. The rare smooth snake Coronella austriaca) occurs on 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 Zoomarker as food for their animals. A pub in Brockenhurstmarker 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 program to reintroduce the sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) started in 1989 and the great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) 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 maintain constant vigilance 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 but 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 (Dama dama) are the most common, followed by roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) and red deer (Cervus elephas). There are also smaller populations of the introduced sika deer (Cervus nippon) and muntjac (Muntiacus reevesii).

The Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) survived in the Forest until the 1970s – longer than almost anywhere else in lowland Britain (though it still occurs on the nearby Isle of Wightmarker). It is now fully replaced in the Forest by the introduced North American Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). The European Polecat (Mustela putorius) has recolonised the western edge of the Forest in recent years. European Otter (Lutra lutra) occurs along watercourses, as well as the introduced American Mink (Neovison vison).

The New Forest is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), 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)


Among the towns and villages lying in or adjacent to the Forest are Lyndhurstmarker (which claims to be the 'capital' of the New Forest), Abbotswell, Hythemarker, Tottonmarker, Blissford, Burley, Brockenhurstmarker, Fordingbridgemarker, Frogham, Hydemarker, Stuckton, Ringwoodmarker, Beaulieumarker, Bransgore Lymingtonmarker and New Miltonmarker. It is bounded to the west by Bournemouthmarker and Christchurchmarker, and to the east by the city of Southamptonmarker. The Forest gives its name to the New Forest districtmarker of Hampshire.

See also List of locations in the New Forest.

New Forest National Park

Consultations on the possible designation of a National Park in the New Forest were commenced by the Countryside Agency in 1999. An order to create the park was made by the Agency on 24 January 2002 and submitted to the Secretary of State for confirmation in February 2002. Following objections from seven local authorities and others, a Public Inquiry was held from 8 October 2002 to 10 April 2003, concluding with that the proposal should be endorsed with some detailed changes to the boundary of the area to be designated.

On 28 June 2004, Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael confirmed the government's intention to designate the area as a National Park, with further detailed boundary adjustments. The area was formally designated as such on 1 March 2005. A National Park Authority for the New Forest was established on 1 April 2005 and assumed its full statutory powers on 1 April 2006. The Forestry Commission retain their powers to manage the Crown land within the Park, and the Verderers under the New Forest Acts also retain their responsibilities, and the Park Authority is expected to co-operate with these bodies, the local authorities, English Nature and other interested parties.
The designated area of the National Park covers and includes many existing SSSIs. It has a population of approximately 38,000 (excluding most of the 170,256 people who live in the New Forestmarker local government district). As well as most of the New Forest districtmarker of Hampshire, it takes in the South Hampshire Coastmarker Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a small corner of Test Valley district around the village of Canada and part of Wiltshiremarker south-east of Redlynchmarker.

However, the area covered by the park does not include all the areas initially proposed; excluding most of the valley of the River Avonmarker to the west of the Forest and Dibden Baymarker to the east. Two challenges were made to the designation order, by Meyrick Estate Management Ltd in relation to the inclusion of Hinton Admiral Parkmarker, and by RWE NPower Plc to the inclusion of Fawley Power Stationmarker. The second challenge was settled out of court, with the power station being excluded. The High Courtmarker upheld the first challenge; but an appeal against the decision was then heard by the Court of Appealmarker in Autumn 2006. The final ruling, published on 15 February 2007, found in favour of the challenge by Meyrick Estate Management Ltd, and the land at Hinton Admiral Park is therefore excluded from the New Forest National Park.

Visitor attractions and places

The New Forest offers many miles of cycle paths
The Forest has cycle paths and outlets are set-up to handle the high demand for bicycle hire, with Burley and Brockenhurstmarker having facilities.

Cultural references


Image:Ponies grazing at latchmore bottom new forest.jpg|Ponies grazing by the Latchmoor BrookImage:New_Forest_heath_and_horses.JPG|New Forest heath and poniesImage:Beaulieu_river_at_longwater_lawn.jpg|The Beaulieu Rivermarker at Longwater LawnImage:Boltons Bench Lyndhurst.jpg|Bolton's Bench in LyndhurstImage:Hatchet Pond.JPG|Hatchet Pond near Beaulieumarker

Image:New_Forest_ponies.jpg|New Forest ponies, September 2007.

Image:New Forest scene 01.jpg|Conifer trees near Boldrewood.Image:New Forest sunset birch 02.jpg|A lone birch at sunset in the New Forest.Image:New Forest pony 02.jpg|Pony on frozen heath at sunset.Image:New Forest pony 01.jpg|In winter the ponies graze on gorse if the grass is frozen.


  1. H. C. Darby. Domesday England, pp. 198-199. Cambridge University Press, 1986. ISBN 0-521-31026-1
  2. Entry on the UNESCO Tentative List.
  3. History of the New Forest National Park.
  4. Wild Devon The Magazine of the Devon Wildlife Trust,page 8 Winter 2009 edition
  5. Update 6 from DEFRA
  6. Landscape Protection - New Forest National Park from DEFRA
  7. Judgment of the High Court in Meyrick Estate Management Ltd v. Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, [2005] EWHC 2618 (Admin), 3 November 2005, from BAILII.

External links

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