Garden waste has no place on the New Forest.

The Verderers Court is one of the oldest in the British judicial system.

This week I attended the Verderers Court in Lyndhurst, which one of the oldest courts in the British judicial system. It has recently undergone refurbishment, and the freshly painted walls are a more muted beige tone than the previous ‘ox-blood’ pink colour. The interpretation area has received some attention and is now encased in a smart wooden cabinet. Other than that, the familiar stag’s heads adorn the walls, and the dock, verderers benches, and public benches are the still the same. Attendance at court was good, which always bodes well for the tearooms and coffee shops in the High Street. The court business this time was a very swift affair, as there were no presentments made. (A presentment is when people attending submit a formal statement to the court of a matter to be dealt with by the Verderers.) Therefore, the only person to speak, other than the Head Agister, who gives his traditional opening salutation, was the Official Verderer. The Official Verderer reminded everyone that with spring approaching many people would be in their gardens mowing their lawns and clipping their hedges. Unfortunately, as he pointed out, some people then feed that garden waste to the ponies, either by tipping it over their fences or by dumping it on the Open Forest, thinking that they are giving the ponies a tasty treat. (Or some contractors illegally fly-tip garden waste rather than pay to have it disposed of correctly.) However, this method of disposal can have serious health consequences for the ponies and even cause a fatal colic.

Horses and ponies fed mown grass-clippings can die
It does seem strange that an animal that eats grass isn’t somehow able to eat mown grass-clippings. But it’s true. Normally, ponies will eat grass in small mouthfuls that are selected from a wide area and chewed slowly, where it can be mixed with saliva. When presented with mown grass-clippings large mouthfuls can be taken and swallowed without being chewed effectively or diluted by the natural fluids in the mouth. But the real danger comes from the fermentation process of the mown grass-clippings as they decompose. This process generates a lot of heat (if you’ve ever put your hand inside a pile of mown grass-clippings you’ll understand how much) and, when ingested, this action produces gas. Ordinarily, the grass that is eaten during normal grazing activity begins to breakdown at a much later stage in the pony’s digestive system and the resultant gasses are passed out of the body as wind. Because mown grass-clippings decompose more quickly, the gasses they produce arrive earlier in the digestive system and have the potential to cause an agonising belly-ache or, in some cases, fatal internal ruptures. Unlike other animals, equines cannot burp, regurgitate or vomit, meaning that any poisonous or noxious substance that is ingested cannot be expelled through the mouth. So, the best thing is not to put dangerous foodstuffs there in the first place! The message to gardeners is: Please dispose of your garden waste responsibly and do not dump it on the Forest. Householders employing contractors to attend to any garden projects must ensure that they are using respectable tradespeople who dispose of waste in the appropriate (legal) manner. To all Forest users the message is: To protect them from dietary-related injury or sickness, please do not feed the ponies – your kindness can kill.

Garden waste should be disposed of responsibly and not dumped on the Forest. 

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New Forest: being called a ‘nimby’ is no joke!

Access to nature is hugely beneficial – not least to our physical and mental health.

I was teasingly called a ‘nimby’ this week. It was during a conversation about the New Forest when I happened to mention that I was a commoner. The person I was talking to laughed and casually said, “Oh, you’re one of those nimby’s then, aren’t you?” My immediate response was one of shock at what I’d heard and my face must have registered a look of indignation because the respondent, on realising they had made a faux pas, coloured up. I was surprised by the fierceness of my reaction, which had been instantaneous, and with the depth of offence that such a careless comment could have provoked in me. I have spent a lot of time since pondering why I found the word ‘nimby’ so offensive. It later occurred to me that in that one sentence was carried so much assumption, prejudice, and insult that its effect on me could not have been any different. Nimby is a pejorative term and acronym, which means Not-In-My-Back-Yard. The phrase was popularised by the media in the 1980s (although some say the term was first used in the 1950s in the post-war development era) and refers to people who are in opposition to anything that imposes on the comfort of their space. It was initially used to describe people who resisted large-scale development, such as housing estates, airports, motorways, business parks and industrial sites, although the term now has a much wider application. These people were (and still are) seen as holding back economic growth and national prosperity by resisting homes, jobs and the expansion of infrastructure.[1] In the media they were (and still are) portrayed as utterly selfish, un-democratic and being predominantly representative of an affluent, privileged ‘Middle England’ class.

Consequently, referring to me, a commoner, as a nimby contained an accusation that I was only concerned in preserving my own personal interests with regard to the New Forest; that I was somehow elitist, reactionary, and that I was anti-tourism, anti-cycling, anti-motorist, in fact, anti-everything that impacted the New Forest. However, on the contrary, I believe that access to, and the protection of, nature and the countryside, has an important place in the development of a robust, prosperous economy. Expanding contact with the natural environment by creating more green open spaces, as well as preserving existing landscapes, also beneficially contributes to our mental and physical health. I believe such measures should be a prime objective for any government or community. (The preservation of such landscapes, flora and fauna also has global benefits too.)  I  believe that people should come to the New Forest to enjoy its special qualities, and to support and respect the traditional activities, such as commoning, which have maintained this exceptional landscape for centuries. People should come here, not because they have no other choice, due to a lack of amenity in their neighbourhoods, but because there is nowhere else like it – in terms of biodiversity or human heritage – in the world. I think that every community deserves a public green space in their backyard, which is planned for a variety of plant and animal life, and that offers opportunities for relaxation and recreation to its human inhabitants. I’m not sure what acronym could be applied to that philosophical outlook (perhaps More-In-My-Back-Yard) but I certainly know its not ‘NIMBY’.

The New Forest is a unique landscape developed by an ancient pastoral system.


[1] Richard Morrison, ‘Ignore this charge of the nimbys’, The Times (London, England), Friday, November 18, 2011; Tim Webb, ‘Nimby power ‘will lead to higher energy bills’, The Times (London, England), Saturday, September 24, 2011; Deirdre Hipwell and Chris Johnston, ‘Redrow chief rails at Nimbys who would return us to ‘squalor’’, The Times (London, England), Friday, September 09, 2011.

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New Forest: commoning generations

The New Forest is loved for its scenery, wildlife and the free roaming animals.

While visitors to the New Forest, and those lucky enough to reside here, undoubtably appreciate its magnificent scenery, free roaming livestock, and exceptional wildlife, not many would consider the significance to the landscape of the unbroken chain of Forest ancestry that occurs in some of the commoning families. Several of these families span generations that are as old as the oaks and beech trees that make up the ancient woodland. It is tempting to imagine that some may even pre-date the creation of the New Forest in the late 11th century, and to have been resident in these parts when the Saxons referred to the territory as Ytene. To me, the preservation of these human markers of heritage is just as important as protecting the landscape they have nurtured, and been nurtured by, for centuries. Indeed, some writers have described the relationship between the commoners and the New Forest as symbiotic, meaning that effectively one cannot live without the other, which, in my humble opinion, is undoubtedly true. The commoners know the Forest intimately. Scientists examining the Forest’s habitats have often confirmed, using ‘painstaking quantification’ or rigorous scientific method, what has been in the knowledge of generations of commoners. In fact, how many times do we reflect upon the innate skill or abilities of certain people and remark ‘”it’s in their blood”? Long have I suspected, therefore, that many of my commoning friends have inherited memories (and wisdom) about the landscape from their ancestors, as well as the colour of their hair and eyes, shape of their bodies, or height, and so on.

Commoning families
When delving into history and learning about the New Forest, it is inevitable that some of the characters from these commoning families will pop up to present themselves. Sometimes these are people who have done something so extraordinary that their deeds have been recorded for posterity, often reaching a certain level of fame. An example of this is the story of one member of the Purkis family who, according to legend, carried the body of King William II, or Rufus the Red as he was also known, to Winchester after he was killed while hunting in the New Forest in 1100AD. It’s difficult to read anything about the ‘accident or murder conundrum’ of the Red King without learning about Purkis’s involvement in the drama. However, more generally, as I am going about my research into the Forest’s history the names of commoning families repeat in less dramatic but no less significant ways. This could be in the annual accounts of one of the landed estates in or around the Forest, in contemporary newspapers and magazines, the court petty sessions or marked on many of the war memorials that can be found on village greens throughout the New Forest. So, next time you are in the Forest and enjoying the spectacular views, or admiring its wildlife and free roaming animals, spare a thought for the families of the commoners who have been making this possible for generations.

The body of King William I (Rufus the Red) was carried from the New Forest by a commoner.

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New Forest: C19th Verderers on pony-buying spree

Only registered, licenced stallions are permitted to run with the free-roaming New Forest mares.

In early March 1887, the Verderers Court met to discuss Forest issues, chief among these was how best to improve the breeding of New Forest ponies with special reference to the procuring of stallions, purchased by the Verderers, for use on the Forest mares. The Clerk reported that some twenty or thirty commoners had written to him with reference to the question of supplying a stallion for the Forest, and asking the Court to consider the matter. According to the Agisters, who are the specialist stockmen employed by the Verderers, not only was there a scarcity of stallions in the Forest at that time, but they did not know of a good one among them. Colonel Esdaile believed that as the scheme would benefit the commoners he did not see any reason for the Verderers not to pay for it, but stated that stallions from the Forest that were below a certain standard would have to be excluded first. The idea was that four stallions would be purchased and turned out on the following year. A general discussion ensued about the merits of the various pony breeds that might be bought. The Clerk stated that some of the commoners believed that the stallions should be purchased in Wales. Col. Esdaile said that he believed a good selection could be found in Cumberland. He had his eye on one, he said, which had extraordinarily good shoulders, and was what they wanted. In his opinion they could have four short-legged, fine-shouldered ponies. (Col. Esdaile is describing the important qualities necessary in a good a harness-horse, which is what the New Forest ponies would have been primarily used for.)

Pony-buying spree
It was generally agreed that previous attempts to introduce thoroughbreds into the New Forest breed had been useless, and that if commoners wanted thoroughbreds they would have to do so at their own expense. For their pony-buying spree the Verderers wanted a breed that could not only improve the Forest pony but cope with the Forest environment. George Edward Briscoe Eyre suggested that the Court ought to consider the Corsican pony, which he said was wiry and a good worker. To which Mr W G Roy replied, that they might go a little further, and as the Corsican pony lived on rocks they might have a stallion, which lived on nothing – have an Arab, which lived in the Desert. However, after some debate the conclusion of the meeting was found in favour of Welsh ponies, and it was agreed to purchase four. The decision as to whether the stallions were to be turned out on the Forest was postponed until the matter could be discussed at length with the Agisters. Today, of course, the management of the New Forest pony breed is taken much more seriously and, while its lineage does contain other native British breeds only purebred, registered New Forest stallions are now permitted to roam the Forest. The Verderers, nevertheless, remain actively involved in promoting projects to sustain commoning and livestock in the New Forest and still support schemes to protect and maintain New Forest pony bloodlines. I am curious to discover if, during my research, I can find out what happened next and whether the Welsh stallion were purchased or not.

New Forest ponies are adapted to cope the demands of a free-roaming existence.

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New Forest: Do you have ‘Second Person Power’?

Following a good example in road use, can also influence the behaviour of others.

Just recently I’ve been travelling the length and breadth of the New Forest to attend various events and business meetings. These journeys have given me a chance to ponder the topical subject of traffic and speeding across the Open Forest, and to observe the behaviour of my fellow commuters and other travellers. I have to say that my experiences were actually quite positive. In two separate journeys, for example, both lasting over an hour, travelling at no more than 40 mph I was not overtaken once. Not once. In both these journeys there was no other vehicle in front of me, the road ahead was empty, yet every other vehicle stayed behind my car as I went on my way – under the 40 mph limit. At this point, I have to state for the record that I drive an ordinary car, examples of which can probably be found on any run-of-the mill car-dealer forecourt. If I drove a lookalike police car, I could understand the reticence of other drivers in overtaking me. Perhaps this marked observance of the speed restrictions by my fellow travellers was as a result of the publicity and general outrage caused by the recent spate of tragic and, lets face it, avoidable pony deaths on the Forest roads.

Power of the Second Person
This demonstration of law-abiding activity from my fellow journey-makers got me thinking, and I realised that in these instances it was actually the car travelling behind me that was controlling the speed of the journey by not overtaking. Let me explain. There is a theory, known as ‘The Power of the Second Person’, which argues that only when an idea has been adopted by others, rather than the person who first thought of it, does the idea have credibility. Crucially, in this theory it is the second person adopting the idea, or in this case copying the behaviour, who makes all the difference in influencing others. With one car following another, where both vehicles are travelling under 40 mph, cars joining behind are much more likely, according to the theory, to adopt the behaviour of the cars in front and drive at a reasonable speed. (It’s also true that if you are over-taken by one car – even if you are sticking to the speed limit – and the car after them overtakes you too, then the vehicles behind are much more likely to follow suit.) This is a simplistic description, of course, and the theory is certainly not without its counter-argument, but in this instance it does seem to be a compelling explanation for my experience travelling from one end of the Forest to the other. Excessive speed is the most cited reason for the deaths of animals involved in road traffic collisions, and staying under 40 mph on the Forest roads is the best way to avoid a fatal outcome. Therefore, setting or, as demonstrated above, following a good example in road use can also influence others in protecting the road-safety of the free-roaming animals.

The free-roaming animals use the New Forest roads when wandering their territories.

For a fun explanation view this video from Derek Sivers about ‘How to Start a Movement‘.

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New Forest: where’s the her-story?

Forest dwellers in times past were self-sufficient. They grew vegetables and kept animals.

Of all the books I’ve read about the New Forest, it occurs to me that very few relate the New Forest from the feminine perspective or, indeed, tell women’s stories of living or growing up in this unique environment. It also makes me wonder, just how much her-story have we missed by only relating and recording his-story? One outstanding exception to this is perhaps the autobiography of Gilbert Smith, who provides an insight into the lifestyle of a Forest Keeper’s family at the turn of the twentieth century. It’s a book that, for me, has had many laugh-out-loud moments, as he describes his childhood growing up on the New Forest. Although it was a hard life, he is grateful that it was one filled with the things money can’t buy – love, space and freedom – much of which was due to his mother. He describes her in tones of immense admiration and, by his account, was a woman of widespread ability, able to add many creature comforts into their otherwise thrifty lifestyle. (For instance, she would stuff pillows with thistledown and lavender for the children’s beds.) He describes her as a ‘true Forester’ with a marvellous sense of humour, that was quite wicked at times. Their existence was fairly isolated with the nearest neighbour being over a mile away, which meant that they had to be self-reliant. (Gilbert Smith never had a day outside the New Forest until after he’d left school.) The Forest at that time had no electricity, no gas, no telephone, and travel was on unmade dirt tracks either on foot, bicycle, horseback or in a horse-drawn waggon or cart. When her children were young, Smith’s mother pushed them about in a wheelbarrow, as a pram would never have survived the rough tracks.

Tough – little donkeys
It was a very physically demanding existence, without the benefit of the modern technology or labour-saving devices that we take for granted today. All their food was made from ingredients (there was no such thing as processed or convenience food available) and Smith’s mother is described as a ‘magician’ able to conjure up appetising food, with just primitive cooking facilities. Rabbits, caught by the children, sometimes supplemented the protein requirement of the family diet; this, it must be remembered, was before the introduction of myxomatosis to control the rabbit population. Smith’s father, who was a Forest Keeper, was allowed to take some for the pot, but rabbits were generally reserved for the “licensees” who paid to shoot in the Forest. He never seemed to realise just how prolific his children’s hunting was, as his wife never let on and bartered the excess bunnies at Ringwood market, where she also sold any eggs and butter that could be spared. The vegetables they ate came from their own garden plot, and Smith’s mother would make her own chutney and pickles from the surplus. When he was a child Gilbert Smith and his brothers and sisters, would help their mother collect “morning’s wood” for the fire. Mother would push the wheelbarrow and, when it was filled with fallen branches and dried sticks, the children would pull in front on ropes – ‘just like little donkeys’. It was a tough existence.

Survival lessons
As well as the absence of convenience food or labour-saving technology, at this time people were also without the benefit of a National Health Service, and the nearest doctor – who was very expensive – lived many miles away. Any ailments had to be treated with home-remedies made from the plants and herbs growing around their holding, or from vinegar, cider and honey on the comb. Luckily, Smith’s mother was a gifted naturalist, who was herself descended from a line of Forest Keepers, and passed her knowledge on to her children. Smith describes how she impressed upon them all the appropriate “do’s” and an awful lot of “don’ts”. None of these, however, are listed in Gilbert Smith’s book and we can only hope that perhaps they survive in the generations that followed him. Reading this memoir as well as being thoroughly entertaining was, nevertheless, thought provoking. It made me wonder, that if our children were to write about their own upbringing, what sort of memories would they share about us? And, if we ever had to be self-sufficient like the Smith family, just how would we survive?

Gilbert Smith describes himself, and his brothers and sisters, as being like ‘little donkeys’.

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New Forest: animal accidents on Roger Penny Way

The free-roaming ponies use the New Forest road system at all times of the year, day and night.

Over the past couple of weeks (February 2017) there have been a series of collisions on the B3078 – Roger Penny Way – that have resulted in the deaths of several New Forest ponies. In one incident, although the driver escaped with minor injuries, the pony was killed when it went through the windscreen of their VW Polo. Graphic photos of the pony corpses resulting from these several collisions have been made into an awareness campaign circulating various social media sites, and a petition is being organised by animal lovers to reduce the speed limit on that road. Emotions are certainly running high. According to statistics, which are available from the Verderers of the New Forest, the vehicle most associated with animal deaths or injury by far, is the private motorcar; and the driver of that vehicle is most likely to be a local person. The biggest contributing factor cited in the cause of animal deaths on New Forest roads is excessive speed. Indeed, in the same week that the pony deaths, described above, occurred, Hampshire Police Specials, in one shift alone, issued speeding fines to six motorists all doing over 50mph along the B3078, Roger Penny Way.

Decline in animal injury and death
The New Forest is a special place, with special qualities, to which the free roaming, commonable animals are an asset. It is a place unlike anywhere else in the world, and perhaps its speeding laws should reflect that, by imposing fines far more severe than elsewhere. Drivers killing or injuring commonable animals should perhaps face a driving-ban or risk having their car impounded if speed is found to be a significant factor in the incident, and those drivers who commit ‘hit and run’ offences should be dealt with punitively. Maybe the animal corpses ought to be left out beside the roads for longer periods to serve as a warning to road users. Rather than fence more New Forest roads, as has been suggested, perhaps we ought to consider closing them – particularly at night! But, before we get too carried away, when viewed in the bigger picture, there is some hope that the situation may perhaps not be as bad as it seems at present. It could be that these particular incidents, as mentioned above, which occurred over a short period of about a fortnight, coinciding with perilous weather conditions, including dense fog, ice and freezing rain, are actually a series of unfortunate accidents. According to the Verderers’ statistics, the overall trend for collisions, which result in the death or injury of a commonable animal, are actually on the decrease. (These figures are based upon the ratio of animal accidents to the number of animals turned out on the Forest.) This trend needs further analysis but could be due to the actions of statutory organisations, including the Verderers, Police, Forestry Commission, New Forest National Park Authority, Hampshire County Council and New Forest District Council who promote initiatives to reduce the rate of animal death or injury further. Then, of course, added to these efforts are those undertaken by local groups, such as Commoners Defence Association, New Forest Trust, and the Parish Councils; and the overall picture is one of safety for the commonable animals being a concern, not only at the highest level of authority within the New Forest, but widespread across its many communities; indicating that recklessly speeding drivers are truly in the minority.

Animal Casualty sign, which is used to mark the sight of an animal injury or fatality.

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New Forest: close encounter of a furred kind!

The New Forest landscape supports many species of plants, fungi, insects, birds and mammals.

One of the best things about living in the countryside has got to be the interaction one can have with wildlife – in all its forms. As I write this piece (February 2017), I am sat in my kitchen where I can overlook the garden and see the snowdrops that have bloomed in the withy patch beside the stream. These delicate little first-heralds-of-spring will soon be followed by yellow daffodils and then later, in May, bluebells. Also from my kitchen window I can see the many birds – including goldfinches, chaffinches, some great spotted woodpeckers and even the occasional nuthatch – that visit the feeders, which have been erected in the garden for their sustenance. The grey squirrels also try to visit the feeders whenever they can, but the regular patrols by our ever-vigilant Labradors keep their garden raids to a minimum. I look out of the window quite often, for inspiration or a change of focus away from the computer screen, and during one such break in writing I was even lucky enough to catch the eye of a passing stoat, as it crossed the patio and stared in through the window at me! There are deer, badgers, rabbits and foxes in and around the pasture, where my field-kept ponies live, as I often see their tracks criss-crossing the meadows. There is no doubt that having wildlife in such close proximity is hugely beneficial to my sense of wellbeing.

Close encounters of a furred kind!
Friends of mine, a husband and wife, recently told me of a close encounter they had experienced with wildlife that had an unexpected twist. They have a beautiful, picture-postcard thatched cottage in a nearby village that has inspired them to become keen gardeners. After a particularly vigorous session of clearing undergrowth and invasive shrubbery they had managed to fill several bags with garden waste, which they decided to take to the dump. During the journey there, the husband, who was driving, experienced a strange tickling-clawing sensation that began at his tummy and proceeded hurriedly up to his chest and then creep around his neck. It was not a pleasant feeling and he quickly realised that a critter had somehow secreted itself in his shirt, either while he was gardening or while carrying the bags of green waste to the trailer. It was just as he felt the creature trying to run down his back that he decided enough was enough and he needed to take urgent action. He swerved the car onto the side of the road jumped out and removed his shirt in an apparently almost simultaneous motion. He did not mention how many witnesses saw this odd behaviour or what their reactions had been, but suffice to say that a shrew was seen to exit his clothing rather hastily and scamper off into the verge. A couple of days later some other friends, who live in another part of the Forest but have relatives close to the thatched cottage, were in the village and met the couple as they were in their garden. It transpired that they had visited their relatives earlier that week and, as they were driving through the village, realised that a shrew had somehow managed to get inside the car and was running around the drivers’ foot well. So, they stopped just outside the picture-postcard thatched cottage, opened the door where the furry critter hopped out and ran into the garden. Was it the same shrew? We will never know!

The Common Shrew (Sorex araneus) lives in hedgerows, scrubland, grassland and deciduous woodland.

For more information about the Common Shrew (Sorex araneus) visit:
The Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust website – Common Shrew
The Mammal Society website – Common Shrew

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New Forest: the seventeenth century coal-rush!

As a ‘royal forest’ the New Forest was closely connected to the monarchy.

On the 30th January 1649 Charles I was executed by beheading. In this momentous event the monarchy was overthrown, signalling the start of England’s only ever foray into republicanism with the establishment of a Commonwealth government. As a result, the House of Lords too was effectively abolished and the Council of State, later to be known as the Protector’s Privy Council, assumed executive authority in the running of the country. This revolutionary outcome presented opportunities to those who wanted to take advantage of the changed political order, and one such occasion involved an application for permission to mine in the New Forest. On the 8th February 1653, it was recorded in the State Papers Domestic that Mr. Wallop, Colonel Fielder, Mr. Love, Colonel Thompson, and Colonel Morley – all members of the Commonwealth government – were to form a committee ‘to consider proposals of Peter Priaulx and others, of Southampton, concerning the finding of coal in Hants, and to report’.[1] Peter Priaulx and his associates, George Gregory and Joseph Denham, were merchants who had offered to ‘search out, dig and vend such coals and other minerals as shall or may happen to be found within the said [New] forest’.[2] These entrepreneurial gentlemen must have been aware of the strict legal codes that governed the royal forests but, presumably, without a monarchy to impose these laws the New Forest no longer had such protection or prohibition; or, at the very least, would be susceptible to the acquisitive schemes of supporters of the Commonwealth. The early part of the seventeenth century had brought a new emphasis on coal mining, which had been created by the enormous increase in the price of firewood and lumber. Land clearance and enclosure had reduced the availability of England’s timber resources, and subsequently encouraged a ‘coal-fever’ mentality and ‘coal-rush’ speculation throughout the country.

The New Forest coal-rush
However, it seems that the proposals of the Southampton merchants attracted interest from other speculators, and in June 1653 Parliament received a letter from Colonel Norton and Richard Major ‘concerning the discovery of a coal mine in the New Forest, and their directions thereon’.[3] (Richard Major was, according to the description of a contemporary, ‘a man witty and thrifty even to miserliness, and an unscrupulous oppressor of his tenantry’.[4]) His intentions towards the coal-mining project presumably were centred on receiving some sort of financial advantage, though he had previously been among several gentlemen who had petitioned Parliament in April 1653 ‘for a lease of the gold and silver mines in Ireland, as being a business of public concern’.[5] In December of that year the State Papers Domestic recorded that the proposals to find and use a coal mine in the New Forest, had been approved and that the merchants had been permitted ‘to dig at their own charges for 30 years in the limits prescribed, allowing the State 1/8 of the profit, and Col. Bennett was to report this to the House’.[6] No such report was made, and it seems that ‘the State certainly got no revenue from it, and the promoters no profit’.[7] For the moment, all talk of coal mining ceased. In 1660 Charles II – the Merry Monarch – was restored to the English throne and with his accession the New Forest, once again, became a royal forest and venue for regal recreation. From then until now, even though rumours of the presence of coal in the New Forest continued to be of interest to those who believed ‘that mineral treasures exist under the roots of the gigantic trees of the [New] forest’, the landscape has thankfully been protected from mining operations and thus preserved intact.[8]

The New Forest is a unique and ancient landscape.


[1] ‘Volume 33: February 1653’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Interregnum, 1652-3, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1878), pp. 137-193. British History Online [accessed 28 January 2017].

[2] Wilbur Cortez Abbott (ed.), The Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell: The Protectorate, 1653-55, Vol. III (Oxford, 1989), p. 402.

[3] Jacob, W. H. ‘Coal in the New Forest!’, Southampton Herald, 20 Jan. 1900, p. 2. British Library Newspapers, Accessed 28 Jan. 2017.

[4] ‘Parishes: Hursley’, in A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 3, ed. William Page (London, 1908), pp. 417-422. British History Online [accessed 28 January 2017].

[5] ‘Volume 35: April 1653’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Interregnum, 1652-3, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1878), pp. 249-302. British History Online [accessed 28 January 2017].

[6] ‘Volume 42: December 1653’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Interregnum, 1653-4, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1879), pp. 279-328. British History Online [accessed 28 January 2017].

[7] ‘The Hampshire Field Club’, Southampton Herald, 22 Apr. 1899, p. 7. British Library Newspapers, Accessed 29 Jan. 2017.

[8] ‘Town and Country Talk’, Lloyd’s Illustrated Newspaper, 9 Apr. 1865. British Library Newspapers, Accessed 29 Jan. 2017.

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New Forest: Drivers who are verging on the ridiculous!

Roadside verges are an important, but under appreciated, aspect of the New Forest landscape.

Without a doubt the New Forest is a wonderful place to visit. Tourists coming to the area are often awestruck at the sight of ponies, cattle, sheep and pigs wandering freely within the perambulation. They marvel at the landscape that, in many places, extends as far as the eye can see and which, as a unique survivor of our medieval past, offers a tantalising glimpse of what much of our countryside must have looked like hundreds of years ago. Saying that though, for all its evocation of wilderness, it is also a landscape that has been managed for over a thousand years. Currently, organisations, such as the Forestry Commission, New Forest National Park Authority and the Verderers of the New Forest, are directly involved in maintaining, protecting and preserving, this special place. To do this, a large proportion of their efforts are focused towards managing the Forest’s users – dog-walkers, ramblers, cyclists, and horse-riders – to ensure that their visit has the maximum enjoyment with the minimum impact. The provision of car parks is an excellent example how this is accomplished. Until the 1970s, vehicles could travel and park anywhere across the New Forest that they could get to. This meant that up to 20,000 vehicles per day were estimated to drive off the highway on to the New Forest at peak times.[1] As a result the Forest landscape became churned-up and criss-crossed with vehicle tracks, and its cherished flora and fauna was becoming stressed and threatened as a result. After a long campaign by conservationists, initiatives, such as ditches and barriers, official car parks, and designated camping and caravanning sites, were finally introduced. These measures have since gone a long way to preserving the special character of the New Forest. However, some Forest users persist in reminding us of the ‘bad-old-days’ by parking on the roadside grassed areas – often within sight of authorised car parks! Excuse the pun, but this is really verging on the ridiculous.

Roadside verges are an under appreciated aspect of the landscape
The grass verges, particularly those beside the busy Forest roads, serve an important function, and some are even designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), which means that they are of national importance for nature conservation and are legally protected against damage.[2] Verges provide a buffer zone between the heathland vegetation, such as gorse, and the roads. This gives drivers, and other road users, a much better chance of seeing the commonable animals and wildlife emerging onto the roads. Drivers who park on the verges, therefore, impede visibility and create a hazard. Of course, those Forest users who insist on feeding the ponies and donkeys, especially from their vehicles, vastly increase the dangers. The free-roaming ponies and donkeys will often congregate around a parked vehicle in the hope of gaining an easy meal or titbit, making a bad situation even worse. Verges also provide a safety zone for the ponies. The ditches, which were installed to prevent vehicles from accessing the Open Forest, are generally set back from the road – not to give space for vehicles to park on the verges – but, for example, to allow the ponies to jump the ditches without landing directly onto the highway. Verges also provide grazing opportunities for the commonable animals and wildlife. People who park their vehicles on the verges create patches of erosion that encourage other drivers to follow suit, causing damage and reducing the feeding areas for the animals. Verges are therefore an important, but much unappreciated, aspect of the landscape that need our respect. Interestingly, according to National Park Authority figures, 46% of Forest users are aged 55 years and over.[3] This group, if they don’t remember the ‘bad old days’ when it was ‘park where you please’, are certainly old enough to know better!

The provision of car parks is one of the many ways that visitors to the New Forest are managed.


Free New Forest car parks map:$file/eng-NFCarparks2011.pdf

Don’t Treat Our Verges Like Dirt!

[1] Colin R. Tubbs, The New Forest: History, Ecology, Conservation (Lyndhurst, 2001), p. 99.
[2] New Forest National Park Authority, ‘Don’t Treat Our Verges Like Dirt!’: [accessed 21.01.2017].
[3] New Forest National Park Authority – Facts and Figures:…/tourism_and_recreation_-_facts_and_figures [access 21.01.2017].

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