New Forest: a landscape frost and ice

The New Forest is a stunning landscape even in the bleak wintertime.

The New Forest is a stunning landscape even in the bleak wintertime.

The recent freezing temperatures have given photographers in and around the New Forest ample opportunities to capture some stunning winter images, which enhance the anticipation of the festive season to come. The carpet of frost adds a touch of sparkle to the heathland, as it stretches out into the distance under crisp blue skies. In the fields on my holding each morning, I can follow the tracks of the wild animals that have criss-crossed from fence to hedgerow and back again during the night in their search for food. Their nocturnal wanderings are recorded by the impressions they leave in the white-dusted layer upon the meadow. As my dogs follow me out into the fields to check the home-kept ponies, they display pleasure at the multitude of scents that fill the air and gallop, nose-to-ground, following the trails of the rabbit, fox and badger. The field-kept ponies are wearing their thick winter coats that fluff up in the sub-zero temperatures, providing them with a good level of protection against the cold. They even carry a layer of frost on their backs to prove how well-insulated they are. One of my daily chores is to check that they have access to water, which is provided by a field-trough that self-fills as the ponies drink. If the temperatures drop too low the trough forms a layer of ice, which prevents the ponies from drinking freely. When this happens, my task is to break the ice and remove it. However, I have seen ponies that are quite adapt at breaking ice in troughs, by striking at the frozen water with their hooves. The free-roaming New Forest ponies simply walk onto the ponds to crack the ice, in order to gain access to water. It never ceases to amaze me how the ponies are able to take long draughts from freezing cold water and yet not show any sign of discomfort.

Low temperatures and frosty weather
The low temperatures at night have been the result of clear skies, which have exposed an amazing array of stars that seem more numerous than usual. Under a bright moonlit sky, the frosted Forest landscape gives the impression that one is seeing the heathland and woods as a negative image, like in a photograph before it has been developed. Of course when the temperatures drop, the gritting-lorries appear to put salt on the roads to prevent them from freezing and causing a danger to traffic. This often has the result of enticing the free-roaming New Forest ponies onto the roads to lick the minerals that have been liberally spread over them. The ponies love the taste of the salt-deposits, and will congregate in numbers on the road to take advantage of the flavoursome bounty. Drivers travelling across the New Forest, particularly at night, would be well advised to consider this during any cold weather and drive with heightened anticipation. Indeed, there may not even be any of the usual signs to indicate the presence of the ponies, such as movement by the roadside or seeing them grazing on the verges, because they are already stood in the road ahead. However, generally speaking, prolonged periods of frost are actually good for the Forest’s habitats and wildlife. The native trees, such as beech, oak and ash, and hibernating species of wildlife, such as bats, benefit from the low temperatures by allowing them to complete the appropriate phases of dormancy; and while much of nature sleeps at this time, those of us who do go out and about in the cold of the frosts get to appreciate the scenic beauty of a fabulous winter landscape.

The New Forest ponies drink from frozen ponds.

The New Forest ponies break the ice on the ponds with their hooves to access water.

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Lucy Kemp-Welch: Colt Hunting in the New Forest

'Colt Hunting in the New Forest' by Lucy Kemp-Welch (circa. 1897).

‘Colt Hunting in the New Forest’ by Lucy Kemp-Welch (circa. 1897).

One of the most important pieces of art ever inspired by the New Forest was a painting by Lucy Kemp-Welch (1869-1958), entitled ‘Colt Hunting in the New Forest’. This painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1897, when she was only 26 years old. It was an impressive canvas measuring 1537 x 3060 mm (approximately 5ft x 10ft) and was described as depicting ‘a wide glade in the forest, along which race a number of colts unwilling to relinquish their liberty and to fall into the hands of the four mounted lads who try to catch them’.[1] Lucy Kemp-Welch was born in Bournemouth, in 1869, and spent much of her time wandering in the New Forest, where she ‘personally studied the wild ponies in this pleasant part of England’.[2] Her love of horses and wild ponies remained with her all her life. In order to capture the energy and excitement of the pony drifts for ‘Colt Hunting’ she actually had the full-sized canvas transported to the Forest, where she sketched from life, as the commoners galloped their ponies past her. When the painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy it caused a sensation and was promptly purchased for £525.00.[3] The buyers were trustees of the Chantrey Bequest, who administered a large sum of money left in the will of Sir F. L. Chantrey to obtain works of art by British artists, in order to create a national collection. It was only the third time, since its creation in 1875, that the Chantrey Bequest had purchased artwork by a woman. Lucy Kemp-Welch became a celebrity overnight.[4]

Colt Hunting in the New Forest
In the same year that Lucy Kemp-Welch exhibited ‘Colt Hunting in the New Forest’, the Tate Galley was built and her painting was transferred to this new, public collection. However, ‘Colt Hunting’ was immediately archived and has never been publicly exhibited. Indeed, there are rumours that the Tate Gallery loaned the painting to the Royal Academy during the Blitz ‘in the hope that the Luftwaffe’s friendly bombs might rid them of this monstrous woman’s work for good’.[5] It is difficult to conceive of the prejudice against women in the late Victorian period and early 20th century, particularly women such as Lucy Kemp-Welch, who stepped out of the roles proscribed to them by a patriarchal society.[6] Her sympathies for the suffragette movement certainly didn’t endear her to the male-establishment figures that controlled the art world. She nevertheless continued to paint and made a successful, and award winning (Paris Salon) career as an artist. It was Lucy Kemp-Welch who brought ‘Black Beauty’ to life in the 1915 edition of Anna Sewell’s novel, and who created the famous WW1 recruitment poster Forward! Forward to Victory – Enlist. When she painted works for the Royal Artillery in 1916, she had eight batteries of horse-artillery charge past her at her easel to capture the movement at close quarters. Her life as an artist was dedicated to capturing horses in all forms of occupation, from galloping polo ponies in a chukka to the last horse-launched lifeboat battling the foaming surf. However, many viewed her work with scorn and if you don’t recognise her name among the list of great British artists, it’s probably due to the artistic snobbery that her work has attracted.[7] She died in Watford on this day (27th November) 1958.

Although the New Forest ponies are referred to as 'wild' the herds are a mixure of semi-feral and domesticated animals.

Lucy Kemp-Welch spent much time in the New Forest studying and sketching its ‘wild’ ponies.

[1] Glasgow Herald, May 1st, 1897, Issue 104. British Library Newspapers.

[2] Hampshire/Portsmouth Telegraph, May 15th, 1897. Issue 6035. British Library Newspapers.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Paul Pickering, The Daily Telegraph, 28 February, 1998.

[5] Ibid.

[6] See – Letters to the Editor, ‘Women Dramatists’, The Era, November 20, 1897. Issue 3087. British Library Newspapers.

[7] Lillian Browse’s article is incredulous that the price for ‘a painting of horses’ by LK-W has exceeded that of a Sickert!, ‘Scraping the barrel of the art market’, in The Times (London), Wednesday, March 8th, 1989. Issue 63336, p.43.

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New Forest: reflective collar or headband?

The New Forest has 13.5 million day visits each year.

Finding a chestnut pony among autumn bracken is not an easy task.

The mild weather of late has meant that the trees seem to be holding on to their foliage, and subsequently treating visitors to the New Forest with displays of lingering autumn colour. Soon the strong winds will denude the trees of the little cover they have to leave them quite bare. While the shorter daylight hours reduce the opportunities for going out to check on the ponies, the exposed branches in the woods and copses mean that they become slightly easier to spot. However, one of my mares is the colour of autumn bracken, which is a deep reddy-chestnut. She is so well camouflaged at this time of year that, thinking I’ve seen her, I’ve gone off to inspect what turns out to be a clump of vegetation. Recently I found her with a small band of ponies grazing on a hillside. From a distance I knew there was something that didn’t look quite right. As I got closer to the pony I could see that her reflective-collar, instead of being in place around her neck, was under her jaw and across her head in front of her ears. She looked like John McEnroe wearing a headband! It seemed obvious that she been grazing in the middle of a gorse bush and, on pulling her head out, had managed to dislodge the collar. For a few moments I pondered what to do. If this were one of my ponies at home I could simply walk up to it and adjust the collar, but with semi-feral ponies it’s a different proposition. My options were, to leave the collar as it was, she would probably dislodge it by herself; to approach her and pull the collar off myself; or, try to get the collar back into the correct position around her neck. The reflective-collars are a useful gadget to show up the ponies at night, particularly to drivers using the Forest roads. So, of all my options the last was the most favoured and, of course, the most difficult.

Watch the body language
I have handled this mare a little in the past and she has the sweetest temper but pulling the collar over her head was bound to cause a reaction and I didn’t want to panic her into defence mode, causing her to lash out at me. The other ponies lifted their heads to watch as I approached. She was curious about my attention; her ears were pricked and forward facing – a good sign. I stood at her shoulder and stroked her neck, with my hand creeping up towards her ears. She seemed content to let me continue and I managed to grasp the collar and pull it over her head. She jerked away with her ears lowered back – not a good sign. Unfortunately, I’d only managed to get the collar over one ear and would have to attempt the same manoeuvre on the other side. I stood patiently while she assessed the danger I posed. As soon as she went back to grazing and I approached her again. This time she was more wary of me. She still allowed me to approach her but was much more suspicious. Her body language was no longer relaxed. Even though she was a little apprehensive I managed to repeat the process of stroking quietly from her shoulder up to her ears and finally pulled the collar in place. The collar is generously elasticated, thankfully, but she was still unsettled by the sensation of the collar passing over her head. She pulled away, gave me a very nasty stare – almost a grimace – and walked indignantly away, followed by her friends.

The high-viz reflective collars enable the ponies to be visible at night.

The reflective-collars help the free-roaming New Forest ponies to be visible at night.

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New Forest: the hunters and the hunted

Hunting in the New Forest was a

The New Forest was established for royal hunting and has a long tradition of the chase.

The history of the New Forest is very closely intertwined with that of hunting. Indeed, it was for that very purpose that the New Forest was established nearly a thousand years ago. Royal hunting favoured red deer but also extended to foxes, either when the larger prey was unavailable or for its novelty. Hunting was a hugely popular pastime and when the Royal Buckhounds visited the Forest, at Bolton’s Bench, in April 1841, it was said that thousands of people turned up to participate in the chase or watch. A newspaper report from the time, recorded that the lowest number of horsemen must have been a thousand, with people in carriages, who would have followed the hunt’s progress, numbering at least another thousand and ‘among the crowds of vehicle of all grades – from the elegant four-horse equipage to the humble chaise-cart – were seen even omnibuses that now for the first time made their entrée into the Forest’.[1] Along with the huntsmen and women, and the carriages, came countless pedestrians who were estimated to be in the region of four thousand people.[2] It was said that ‘a more gay and brilliant assemblage never graced the forest’.[3] Another eyewitness remarked that ‘on the roads leading to the meet it was just like going to the Derby before railroad times’.[4] Like the Derby, hunt meets could be places for the stylish elements of society to be seen, as well as to see the day’s activities. Accordingly, ‘the same brilliant variety of carriages and horses – the same influx of beauty and fashion: the like quality of the good thing of this world then made their appearance, and were usually disposed of at pic-nics, beneath the spreading branches of the magnificent oak or beech-trees, which adorn some of the most picturesque localities of the New Forest’.[5]

Missing pig at Deering’s Town
But the beasts of the Forest were not the only creatures to be pursued and captured by the hounds. In 1840 it was reported that a resident of Sway, who had lost a valuable pig, was persuaded by his neighbour to approach a forest keeper for the loan of one of his bloodhounds, to see if the missing hog could be located. Apparently, several bloodhounds were kept by the keepers, due to their incredible ability to sent wounded deer. The bloodhound was duly sent for and, according to the report, when it arrived began to work by making three or four casts around the house. With the scent acquired, the hound then moved off ‘at a round pace’ towards a small, straggling village called Deering’s Town, some three miles away.[6] The bloodhound then proceeded directly to the house of a labourer, whereupon the pig was found inside slaughtered and hanging to cure. The man was consequently tried for robbery, at Winchester assizes, where he confessed to stealing the pig.[7]

Pannage season

In 1840 a bloodhound was used to recover a missing New Forest pig.

[1] THE QUEEN’S HOUNDS IN THE NEW FOREST, Hampshire Advertiser & Salisbury Guardian Saturday, April 24, 1841

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] John William Carleto, ‘Red Deer Hunting in the New Forest’, in The Sporting Review, July 1852 p. 259.

[5] Ibid.

[6] The Penny Satirist, Saturday, September 19, 1840 (London).

[7] Ibid.

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New Forest: Charter of the Forest 1217

The bad rule of William Rufus led to the Coronation Charter in 1100 and ultimately in Magna Carta.

Magna Carta, which was issued by bad King John in 1215, was extended and issued as the Charter of the Forest, in 1217.

Today (6th November) is the anniversary of one of the most important pieces of legislation ever to be issued in our nation’s history. The carta de foresta or Charter of the Forest, as it became known, was so significant that even though it was originally sealed in 1217 it was still in force for centuries afterwards and its legacy is still evident in the New Forest today. The crucial importance of the Charter of the Forest was that it gave legal rights to ordinary people unlike Magna Charta, which only applied to the nobility. The Charter of the Forest was issued by the nine year old Henry III, who succeeded his father bad King John. When John, who was regarded as tyrannical and untrustworthy, died of dysentery in 1216 he left the realm in a state of anarchy and on the brink of civil war. As luck would have it, the boy-King had in his service one of the greatest knights ever to live – the Earl William Marshall. Earl William, who at this stage in his career was around seventy years of age, enjoyed a ‘near-legendary status as a renown warrior and paragon of virtue’ around which the notions of chivalry and honour had developed. He was said to have declared; “If everyone abandons the boy but me, do you know what I shall do? I will carry him on my back, and if I can hold him up, I will hop from island to island, from country to country, even if I have to beg for my bread.’ William Marshall’s dedication to his sovereign and his country made him the obvious candidate to be ‘guardian’ of the realm, which was regent in all but name, until Henry reached his majority.

Charter of the Forest
To assert Henry III’s legitimacy it was decided to distance the boy from his father’s despotic regime and to unite the warring factions by turning to the rule of law. Magna Carta was therefore redrafted and extended into the Charter of the Forest, which showed Henry III’s intent to rule with a fair and even hand, for the ‘common utility of all’. This was no mere device to quiet the unrest plaguing the realm but a real attempt to lay the foundations for good government. Crucially, because it was sanctioned by the papal legate, the Charter was also recognised in Rome, which meant that it could not be casually nullified. The Charter contained clauses dealing with rights to justice, fair trial and freedom from tyranny. It also gave free men, who relied upon the royal forests for their living through pannage, estovers and pasturage, for example, certain economic protection. According to the Charter ‘Henceforth every freeman, in his wood or on his land that he has in the forest, may with impunity make a mill, fish-preserve, pond, marl-pit, ditch, or arable in cultivated land outside coverts, provided that no injury is thereby given to any neighbour.’ It was the Charter of the Forest that repealed the death penalty of offences against the venison, and set up the Verderer’s Court, which still is still in existence today, to enforce the laws of the Charter. The Charter was reissued in 1225 and in 1297 was joined with Magna Carta (which was the first time it was recorded in the Statute Rolls) to create the Confirmation of Charters.

Pannage season is an ancient practice for commoners with Common of Mast

Pannage was one of the many common rights protected by the Charter of the Forest.


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New Forest: litter – natural and otherwise

Late autumn in the New Forest is filled with colour.

Late autumn in the New Forest is filled with colour and leaf-litter covers the ground.

This week I’ve had the subject of litter on my mind. Looking at the amazing colours of the New Forest’s autumn foliage made me think of the leaf-litter that covers the forest floor. It carpets the ground with a profusion of amber, gold and russet colours that provide a most satisfactory scrunching, rustling sound when walked upon. The leaves change colour due to changes in the amount of sunlight and decreasing temperatures, which cause their chlorophyll levels to break down. It is the chlorophyll (an important biomolecule) that makes leaves green but in its absence other pigments, such as yellows and reds, are revealed. Eventually the leaves will be ejected by the tree, which will then seal the places they were attached to, in order to conserve energy during the winter. Earliest mentions of the word ‘litter’ are in association with a bed-like form of transport carried at shoulder height. From then on fallen leaves collected for bedding would have been regarded as litter material, and once strewn onto a floor as a form of covering would simply be referred to as litter. It is from this association, with the manner of scattering in a disorderly way, that the modern understanding of the word ‘litter’ comes from.

Despoiling the landscape and the skies
Just as the trees discard the leaves that no longer serve a purpose, so some people will abandon the food containers, confectionary wrappers and drink bottles, for example, they no longer need . However, unlike the trees, which cast off biodegradable material that is recycled by the forest flora and fauna, items rejected by humans have no place in nature. I’m not sure if it’s a consequence of the recent half term but my walks in the New Forest of late have become litter forages. I seem to have collected more litter in this past week than in the whole of the month beforehand! I’ve also noticed that there are a profusion of out-of-date posters pinned to trees, lamp-posts and telegraph poles calling for the return of missing dogs that have long since been reunited with their loving owners; and Cat, it seems, celebrated her 30th birthday for a least a couple of weeks on a sheet strung across a busy road bridge. Nevertheless, to my mind possibly the worse type of litter that humankind is responsible for is not the type that initially despoils our landscape but our skies. Sky lanterns or Chinese lanterns, call them what you will, are the scourge of the countryside and its wildlife. With the season of the firework and bonfire upon us these dangerous floating incendiaries are often released into the atmosphere where they drift aimlessly, until they disintegrate or land, posing a potential threat to our wildlife and rural habitats greater than many other forms of litter. So, when out and about in the New Forest, be a friend to its wildlife and habitat and don’t leave litter – either on the ground or in its skies.

Be a friend to the New Forest and take your litter away with you.

Be a friend to the New Forest and take your litter away with you.

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New Forest: autumn leaves and falling temperatures

Late autumn in the New Forest is filled with colour.

Late autumn in the New Forest is filled with colour.

If you have walked out onto the Forest recently you will no doubt have been impressed by the variety of colours across the heathland and woods. Some of the higher elevations of the Forest provide spectacular views over the landscape in which oranges and yellows meld with russets and greens for as far as the eye can see. The winds that are beginning to gather strength as the autumn progresses snatch the golden leaves from off the trees, swirling them about as they float to the floor. At this time of year the trees boast as much colour around their roots as they do in their branches. The temperatures, like the foliage, are dropping too. Hats, scarves and even gloves are frequently the accessories required before stepping out of doors in the early mornings. The New Forest ponies are also donning their winter apparel. Their sleek summer coats are rapidly being replaced by shaggy ones, as their hairs begin to thicken and lengthen to offer some protection from the developing colder weather. The plentiful grazing over the warmer months has ensured that the ponies will be going into the winter with plenty of energy stored in the form of layers of fat. These combined resources provide the ponies with the best means of withstanding the privations of the bleaker months to come.

End-of-season activities
In the meantime, some of the Forest activities are winding down. The pony drift season is coming to an end, which is just as well. Only a month or two ago, it seemed, I was attending the round-ups in summer-weight clothing and, like my fellow commoners, seeking any bit of shade to avoid standing under the baking sun. Now, we are all stamping our feet and blowing on our hands to keep warm! The only thing hot these days is the gossip. We back up to the trees or the gorse bushes to stay out of the prevailing wind, only daring to appear when the sound of ponies hooves thundering towards us means that we must take up our positions to channel the ponies into the pound. By now some of the ponies are getting wise to the round-ups and are displaying ingenious tactics to avoid being caught. Recently on one drift a group of riders were bringing in a single mare at a full gallop. She had proved particularly difficult to round-up and so riders were either side of her, lining her up for the pound. Without any warning she stopped absolutely dead in her tracks but of course the riders, being unprepared, carried on going at speed. Quick as a flash the mare turned on her heels and galloped off in the opposite direction. By the time the riders had collected themselves and turned around, she was gone. A few Saxon oaths were muttered, I can tell you. As the riders went off in search of the errant mare the rest of us quickly returned to the shelter of the gorse, looking very much like a row of sentries returning to their boxes.

The ponies coming in on the annual drifts, or round-ups, are looking fit, healthy and well fed.

The ponies coming in on the annual drifts, or round-ups, are looking fit, healthy and well fed.

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The Norman Conquest and being English.

The statue of King Richard I - the Lionheart - stands outside the Houses of Parliament.

The statue of King Richard I – the Lionheart – great-great-grandson of William the Conqueror stands outside the Houses of Parliament.

If you had lived in England on this day (16 Oct 2016) 950 years ago chances are you would be aware that a momentous battle had just been fought, only a few days earlier, near Hastings in Sussex. Even if you didn’t know the exact details you would undoubtedly know that the English king, Harold Godwinson had been slain. How would this affect you? To begin with, probably not a lot. But the victor of the battle, Duke William II of Normandy, later to be known as William the Conqueror or King William I, would fundamentally change what it was to be ‘English’ during his twenty-year reign. Even today the result of these radical changes are still evident but have become so familiar to us that they form part of our national identity.

Raiders and pirates
The Normans were descended from the Norse (Norseman became Northman or Norman) who were raiders and pirates from the Scandinavian and Nordic regions. They settled in the region of France that became known as Normandy, establishing a powerful dynasty that included William the Conqueror. Prior to the Norman Conquest, if you were a man you might possibly have had a name such as Eadwine, Æthelred, or Gyrth, or if you were a woman, Ælfgifu, Ealdgyth or Cyneburh. Afterwards Anglo-Saxon names became synonymous with defeat and so children were given Norman names, such as William, Robert, and Henry or Alice, Sophie and Margaret, to better assimilate them into society. These names seem so familiar to us now and, somehow, more English. From the time of the Conquest Norman-French began to influence the English language, customs and culture in a way that has stayed with us ever since.

Nova Foresta
William I also imported his passion for hunting, for which he created the Nova Foresta in 1079. To protect the beasts of the chase and their habitat, he introduced Forest Law and with it an administrative and legal system that can still be witnessed in the New Forest today, in the form of the Verderers’ Court at Lyndhurst. ‘Verderer’ is derived from the French word for ‘green’ and signifies the area of responsibility for these powerful Forest officials. The first mention in written record of the New Forest occurs in the Domesday Book (Great Survey), to which a whole section is devoted. No other area of the country has this privilege. The Domesday Book is our oldest public record, which was commissioned by William I to inform him of his fiscal dues and the taxes he could expect to receive from around the country. The Domesday Book remains an effective legal proof of land ownership.

The Queen Wills It
Even today Norman-French is used during the passage of Government Acts through the Houses of Parliament with phrases such as, “La Reyne le vault” (The Queen wills it.). This is because William I, and his royal descendants, bestowed and upheld the basis of English law and the institutions that eventually developed into Parliament. Richard the Lionheart, whose statue is outside the Houses of Parliament as a patriotic symbol of our nation’s virtue and virility, is the great-great-grandson of William I and didn’t even speak a word of English. His brother, John, is regarded as the worst king of England but through his negligence and mismanagement Magna Carta Libertatum – better known as Magna Carta – was born. For the first time in history an English monarch agreed in writing to safeguard the rights, privileges and liberties of certain of his subjects, such as clergymen and nobles. This legal document has inspired other forms of contract between rulers and citizenry, such as the United States Constitution, and has consequently made British law the envy of the world.

The bad rule of William Rufus led to the Coronation Charter in 1100 and ultimately in Magna Carta.

Magna Carta Libertatum – for the first time in history an English monarch agreed in writing to safeguard the rights, privileges and liberties of certain of his subjects, such as clergymen and nobles.

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New Forest: the story of the pig that pointed!

Pannage season

The sight of pigs during pannage season is highlight of autumn in the New Forest.

During pannage season pigs undoubtedly become the favourite animal to see in the New Forest. There is nothing quite like the sight of happy porkers that have been set free to root about through the fallen leaves and undergrowth, in their search for food. They provide a very important service at this time of year by eating the green acorns that are toxic, when eaten in quantity, to the other commonable animals. Through their voracious foraging the pigs reduce the risk of poisoning occurring in the free roaming ponies and cattle. In 1809 it was reported that two enterprising brothers had found a further use for the Forest pigs, by training a black sow how to detect game and to back and stand. Richard and Edward Toomer lived seven miles apart, one in Broomy Lodge and the other in Rhinefield Lodge. As well as being Forest Keepers they had a great interest in breaking and training pointers and setters, some of their own breeding and others that were sent to them by sporting gentlemen. Apparently the pig developed a partiality for a litter of pointer puppies and would play with them and share their feed. As several of the dogs that were in for training showed little interest in their work, Richard Toomer reckoned that having broken many a dog as obstinate as a pig, he would try to see if he could not succeed in breaking a pig. She was given the name Slut, ‘in consequence of soiling herself in a Bog’ and within a day could respond to her name.

Porcine hunting prowess
Within two weeks, the sow could find and point partridges or rabbits, and soon after that she could detect grouse, pheasants, and snipes. Her hunting prowess rivalled that of any dog, although for some reason she was never known to point a hare. However in the field she was said:

She always expressed great pleasure when Game, either dead or alive, was placed before her. She has frequently stood a single Partridge at forty yards distance, her Nose in a direct line to the Bird; after standing some considerable time, she would drop like a setter, still keeping her Nose in an exact Line, and would continue in that Position until the Game moved: if it took wing, she would come up to the place and put her Nose down two or three times; but if a Bird ran off, she would get up and go to the place, and draw slowly after it, and when the Bird stopped she would stand it as before.

Her pace was mostly a trot, and she was seldom known to gallop, except when called to go out shooting. She was never shut in but apparently responded to the call of the whistle as eagerly as any dog.

She was five years old when Richard, her master, died and she was sold at auction for ten guineas, along with his pointers and setters. At the age of ten she was again sold, by this time she weighed 700 pounds (approximately 317 kg) and was described as ‘fat and slothful’, but she could still find game as well as before. Accounts differ as to the identity of her new master. One names, Mr Sykes of Brookwood, in the New Forest, and others Colonel Sykes of Basildon House, Berkshire. However, in all accounts the result for the sporting pig was the same – she was sent for slaughter. One commentator described her shameful death as ‘Animal Murder’ because ‘it would have cost but a trifling Sum to have fed and sheltered her in the Winter, and the Park [either in the New Forest or at Basildon] would have supplied her Wants during Summer at no Expense’. It was wondered that no one had since attempted to train a pig to ‘Dog and Gun’, as being accompanied by a brace of pig-pointers would have been quite a novelty in an age that valued innovation.

Pannage season is part of the ancient commoning rights and a popular tradition.

During pannage season, pigs provide a very important service  by eating the green acorns that are toxic, when eaten in quantity, to the other commonable animals, such as cattle and ponies.


The Literary Panorama, Vol. VI, London, 1809, pp. 443-444

The Gentleman’s Magazine, From January to June, 1810, Vol LXXX, London, pp. 43-44.

Rev William Barker Daniel, Rural Sports, Vol. 3 (London, 1812).

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New Forest: fallow deer and the rut

The fallow deer rutting season runs from September to October.

The fallow deer rutting season runs from September to October.

The autumn months in the New Forest herald the breeding activity of fallow deer (Dama dama). The rutting season begins in September and peaks in late October. As the foliage changes colour into the russets, oranges and yellows of late autumn, if you are quiet and listen intently, the sounds of amorous male fallow deer can often be heard across the Forest. With pannage season underway you would be forgiven for thinking that what you had perceived was the sound of a porker snorting to its piggy-friends. This is because the call of the fallow buck is a cross between a grunt and a belch, given in quick succession, that is used to attract mates and challenge other males. Bucks will protect a territory, known as a stand, into which they will attempt to entice does and form a harem. Upon hearing the sound of rutting deer any dogs accompanying you should immediately be put on their leads, if they aren’t already, and ideally you will vacate the area as quickly and quietly as possible to avoid alarming the deer. It is important to protect these animals from undue stress at this time, as any disturbance may affect their breeding success.

Naturalised species
The fallow deer is the most commonly encountered of the six deer species that freely roam the British countryside. The New Forest has a fallow population of about 1,300 deer that are monitored by the Forestry Commission. Outside of the rutting season fallow deer roam in single sex herds of either bucks or does. When the males reach maturity, at about 18 months old, they will leave the doe herd and join a bachelor herd. Fully-grown bucks grow to a height of 94cm (approximately 3ft) at the shoulder and can weigh up to 93kg (approximately 205 pounds). From the age of three to four they grow ‘palmate’ antlers (just look at the palm of your hand with fingers outstretched to see what that means), which can reach up to 70 cm (27 inches) in length. During the summer months their coat is generally a chestnut colour with white mottles, which deepens to a darker, unspotted pelt in the winter. Other variants of coat colour also exist, which range from almost black to white, but these are not as common. Even though they are a familiar sight in the countryside, fallow deer are not a native British species. The Romans first introduced fallow deer shortly after their conquest of Britain in 43AD. The deer were kept in specially designated parks, called ‘vivarium’. When the Roman Empire collapsed and Roman rule in Britain ended, fallow deer became extinct in this country. However, William the Conqueror, who also created the New Forest, reintroduced fallow deer in the 11th century and the descendants of these animals became naturalised and have remained part of our countryside ever since.

Avoid disturbing deer, as stress during the rut can affect breeding success.

Avoid disturbing deer, as stress during the rut can affect breeding success.


You Tube documentary: Dama – The Deer That Walked the World,

You Tube sound clip of fallow bucks:

Dama International – The Fallow Deer Project:

British Deer Society:

Forestry Commission:

New Forest National Park Authority:

Stag Antlers:

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