New Forest: get the picture?

Late autumn in the New Forest is filled with warm colour

Autumn in the New Forest is a spectacular time of year. The warm colours of orange, russet, and red that are on display in the canopies of the trees and over the heathland contrast with the wintry temperatures on clear days. No photograph could ever reproduce the raw breath-taking beauty and atmosphere that such scenery stimulates within our senses. Scrunching through fallen leaves, while out looking for my free-roaming ponies, brings back memories of early childhood. My small feet, wrapped in newspaper to insulate against the cold, would be stuffed into oversized hand-me-down wellington boots, which I would use to make trenches through the piles of leaf-litter. As a nipper I never ever remember feeling bored at any time I was out-of-doors. There was always so much to observe and be aware of. It’s just the same for me today. I use all of my senses to try and attune myself to the landscape. As the leaves begin to fall from the trees it’s getting easier to spot the ponies that take shelter in the wooded areas. They are beginning to change into their winter coats, with the short smooth hairs that gave a gleam to their bodies in summer being slowly replaced by the longer shaggy hairs that will help to repel and redirect winter rain. In the early mornings, before the sound of commuter traffic floods the landscape, I can hear the distinctive calls of the fallow bucks as they announce that their mating season – the rut – is underway.

Get the picture?
Rutting activity is usually most intense just after dawn, when the bucks attempt to secure as many does (female deer) as they can while seeing off other males. On still days the grunting noise of the bucks carries a good distance and every now and then may be replaced by the sound of clashing antlers as two males fight. It’s a very stressful time for the deer and the bucks are filled with testosterone, which makes them much more aggressive and, consequently, more dangerous. I always give the deer a wide berth at this time. Not so with other people – photographers – who are willing to go to extraordinary lengths, and at great personal risk, to obtain close-up photographs of deer behaviour during the rut. I have seen images, via social media, of deer in various stages of coitus that seem so intrusive the photos must have been taken without any regard for the animal’s wellbeing and may even constitute wildlife harassment. Such selfish behaviour is becoming a problem for many conservation areas, particularly where rare or ‘rewilded’ species are to be found. Guidelines have consequently been produced by the Royal Photographic Society for Nature Photographers to try to reduce the impact of their behaviour on their non-human subjects. Photographers to the New Forest would also be strongly advised to check with the Forestry Commission that their activities are not breaching any of the New Forest Byelaws and to obtain permission where appropriate. Watching wildlife is becoming big business and there are websites advertising where rutting deer may be viewed, not just in the New Forest but all over the country. It seems the more we become separated from the rest of the animal kingdom and the natural world, the more we want to somehow interact with it. Is it just me though, or does the notion of gathering to watch deer mating seem like a rather bizarre notion of a day out?

The deer rut occurs at autumn and is the mating season for the New Forest’s largest wild mammal

Guidelines for the Nature Photographer’s Code of Practice has been produced by the Royal Photographic Society in consultation with the RSPB and the three Statutory Nature Conservation Councils.

Photography in the New Forest is covered under Forestry Commission Byelaws, particularly where it occurs as part of an organised event or for commercial/educational purposes.

Forestry Commission Byelaws under Statutory Instrument 1982 No. 648

Please note: This article and the links attached are intended for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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New Forest: warm welcomes and creature comforts

Wood warms you twice – first when you cut it, second when you burn it

I went to visit a friend of mine recently for a long overdue catch up over a mug of coffee. This particular friend, a lady with a widespread knowledge of the New Forest, comes from a long established commoning family whose home was an integral part of their dairy farm. Although the dairy business no longer exists the house retains those features and dimensions that were built to compliment an agricultural lifestyle. These elements differ markedly from the homes of the ‘Country Living’ style residences one sees in glossy magazines because, in many cases, they are still utilised and maintained by working farming folk who value practical application over cosmetic interior design. There is plenty of evidence, both inside and out, in such dwellings to tell of a life maintained by agricultural or silvicultural activity. Apart from the presence of heavy machinery parked in the yard, in the form of tractors and other farming or forestry implements, there is usually the obligatory stock-trailer that most commoners own and very little sign of gentrification to the property.

Warm welcomes and creature comforts
On my arrival at my friend’s holding I noticed evidence of log splitting activity, which was indicated by a small pile of logs and faggots that had been loaded into a wheelbarrow ready for transportation into the house. A large axe lay inertly beside the chopping block, but its weight and exquisitely sharpened edge belied its potency for slicing the thick rounds of tree branch into smaller, more manageable quarters. Those of my readers who have ever tried chopping logs with an axe will understand why it is said that wood warms you twice – once when you are cutting it, and again when you are burning it – as it is physically demanding work.  My friend, a retired lady of diminutive stature, grinned broadly when I enquired who had been so industrious in cutting up the logs, and she immediately took the credit. Her independence, which was instilled in her at a young age, gives her a great sense of achievement and, she says, ‘keeps her going’. Indeed, she’s the kind of person who is more likely to offer help than to ask for it. Her kitchen is what I like to think of as a proper commoner’s kitchen with a commodious wood-fired range for cooking on, drying wet overalls and warming outdoor boots, or providing comfort to newborn or sick animals. Its perpetual labours in generating heat, fed by perpetual labours in chopping wood, ensure that the kitchen offers a cheerful greeting to those who enter. This warm reception is matched by the wood stove in the sitting room, which purrs happily as it breathes out heat tinged with smoke. Apart from the warmest of welcomes, the congenial company and quaint surroundings I enjoy when visiting, I always look forward to the coffee she serves, which is the best caffè latte in the district. As I settle in beside the wood stove for a long overdue chat, I join the ranks of creatures including calves, foals and puppies that have drawn comfort from the warmth of this working Forest home.

Wood stoves, ranges and Agas are excellent appliances for warming newborn and sick animals, as well as performing the usual kitchen tasks

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New Forest: autumn activity, tradition and festival

The smell of good meadow hay is one of the best aromas of the countryside.

Autumn is always a busy season for farmer, smallholder and commoner alike. It is also a time of ritual, tradition, and festival that reminds us of our connection to the natural or, indeed, supernatural world. Michaelmas, which signals the end of the harvest period, has passed. By now the cereals, hay and cart straw will have been harvested from the fields, and the majority of fruits and vegetables gathered in for winter storage or processed into jams, pickles and chutneys. Harvest Festival celebrations will have been observed in local churches, schools, community centres and village halls, where excess produce is redistributed or sold to eager purchasers who stock up for the lean winter months to come. Harvest Festival coincides with the Harvest moon, the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. Harvest Festival, which began as a pagan festival of thanksgiving and generosity, has now been adopted into the Christian faith and is usually celebrated on the Sunday nearest to this date. As well as marking the end of toil from bringing in the harvest Michaelmas is also the customary time for buying and selling farms; because the outgoing farmer will have finished his crop and the incoming farmer can begin to plant or sow ready for the next harvest season. (This is why the farmer’s calendar traditionally begins in September.)

Autumn activity, tradition and festival
For the commoners this a time busy with the annual drifts or pony round-ups where the semi-feral ponies are driven into stockades, known as pounds, to be checked, marked, wormed, or fitted with florescent collars. Many of the foals that have wandered the heathland and lawns with their dams since the springtime, will be removed to their commoning owner’s holding to be kept over winter. As a result, you may begin to notice fewer foals adorning the landscape over the coming months. Pannage season is also underway; this is the time of year to see pigs roaming freely to root about in the forest undergrowth beneath canopies of yellowing autumn leaves. Their voracious appetites serve a worthy purpose because they hoover up the acorns that, when eaten in quantity, can prove so toxic to ponies and deer. Pannage pork is a local delicacy and much sought after by gourmets and other food connoisseurs. The commoners, of course, have been eating it for generations. This flavoursome meat was produced in readiness for the traditional feast period of Christmastide, by fattening up the pigs on the largess provided by the forest’s beech, chestnut and oak trees. Of course, at the end of this month comes Halloween a former pagan festival that used the sacred light of bonfires and contact with the spirits of the dead to prophesise the future. Halloween is celebrated between the bounty of autumn and the lean months of winter, when farmers, smallholders and commoners of times past would have relied on messages and portents from their dearly departed friends and relations to tell them of their coming fortunes or, to avoid misfortune, to at least put in a good word for them with the gods. Now, of course, for many people Halloween has evolved into a child-friendly festival for dressing up and playing ‘trick-or-treat’, but even this re-interpretation is based upon the redistribution of food with pranks played on those lacking in generosity.

Pannage season, where pigs are turned out on the Open Forest to scoff acorns, is a traditional practice for those commoners with Common of Mast.

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New Forest: old records show crime and lies do not pay

Adverts from 1899 make fascinating and informative reading

Every now and then I get the chance to sit down and read the newspaper as part of my job. Quite often though, the newspaper in question dates from the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. These historical broadsheets make fascinating reading and reveal something of the issues, interests and anxieties of the people living locally in the Georgian or Victorian period. Even the advertisements offering cures for children’s teething problems, hair loss, or rheumatism, help to build a picture of what life would have been like back then. Where today we have advertisements for cars, vans and lorries; in the newspapers of yesteryear there are countless riding ponies, carriage horses, draught animals and respective carts, traps, gigs and wagons offered for sale. This immediately conjures up images of a pre-motorised transport system with roads filled with horse-drawn vehicles; and an economy based on rural activity, which would have been organised according to the seasons of the year. One of my favourite columns to read is the court list which, like the ‘From the Court’ section in many of today’s local newspapers, records the people who have been charged in the magistrate’s court. Some of the crimes are clearly familiar, such as being drunk and disorderly; driving while under the influence of alcohol – though obviously in former times this meant being drunk in charge of a horse-drawn vehicle (which could be as equally as dangerous a motorcar) – and public order offences, such as threatening behaviour. However, whereas today you may see long lists of shoplifters recorded, in times past there were instead many cases of poaching.

Lyndhurst Petty Sessions
In one case, heard at the Lyndhurst Petty Sessions in 1873, a local man was charged with ‘trespassing in the New Forest in pursuit of conies’ (rabbits). The Defendant’s wife appeared in court, explaining that her husband had gone into the country to look for work and could not attend. She asked that the case be adjourned until the next court date. But, Constable Dodd, who was in charge of the case, informed the court that different versions of the Defendant’s whereabouts had been given to him. When the Constable had visited the home of the Defendant to leave his summons, the Defendant’s brother reported that the man had just left. The mother, however, said that the Defendant had left the day before. These conflicting accounts ensured that a warrant was issued for the arrest of the Defendant, ‘who had treated the court with contempt’. In another case, reported in the same newspaper, a man charged with ‘trespassing in the New Forest in pursuit of conies’ had been seen by a witness ‘near Picket-Post Turnpike with a dog, beating and hunting’. The Defendant explained to the court that the dog did not belong to him (he said it was his father’s) and that he had not been poaching at all but was out looking for his donkey. The court did not believe him and he was, therefore, fined 2s 6d and the costs of 7s 6d – also proving that not only does crime not pay but neither do lies.

The rabbit was a favourite prey of poachers who would often trespass in the New Forest to hunt them

SOURCE:

Multiple Advertisements, Horse and Hound (London, England), Saturday, September 30, 1899, Vol. XVII, Issue 810, p.616. From 19th Century UK Periodicals

LYNDHURST PETTY SESSIONS: Southampton Herald (Southampton, England), Saturday, November 15, 1873, Vol. 51, Issue 2861, p.3. From British Library Newspapers

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New Forest: animals ‘bottom flossing’

The New Forest road signs and finger posts lead a double life that most visitors are unaware of

I was talking to some ‘griddler’ friends of mine recently about the joys of living inside the New Forest perambulation. (A griddler is a local term for a non-commoning person who lives inside the cattle-grid zone of the New Forest.) These friends love being part of a village community in which, of course, they include the commoner’s free roaming animals. Their cottage is picture-postcard perfect, with a thatched roof, and fragrant honey-suckle and pink roses over the door. It’s always a pleasure to visit, particularly as I am usually greeted with a large mug of coffee and a fully loaded biscuit barrel. Their home overlooks a small green that is separated from the property by a busy village road. A short distance away is a crossroads where visitors must choose carefully the direction they wish to go in order to either access the Open Forest, enter a dead-end track leading to other properties, travel further to the village centre, or return back the way they had come. To aid the visitors in their choice is a signpost, located on the green. This simple structure, a black and white name board suspended between two round wooden posts, stands alone informing passers by of their location.

Leading a double life
Apparently this road sign leads a double life. According to my friends, not only do cyclists and walkers perch or lean upon it while consulting their maps and phone apps, but the ponies, donkeys, and cattle use it as a scratching post. In fact, the height of the road sign is so accommodating that some of the taller ponies are even able to straddle it in order to relieve the itching to their undersides that teeth or hooves are unable to reach. The majority of the ponies and donkeys, however, seem to like to rub their rear ends up and down the posts, as if giving themselves a massage as well as scratching. My friends refer to this as ‘bottom flossing’, because to all intents and purposes that’s exactly what it looks like the animals are doing. New Forest ponies are very clever animals and they are also opportunists. I have seen for myself a pony using the horns of a cow, which was lying down and chewing her cud, to scratch itself. Many of the cables on the Open Forest, which support telephone poles or other infrastructure features, are often used for the same purpose (see photo below). It’s not unusual to see these large metal cables with a tidemark line of hair-encrusted dirt up to several feet, or a metre or so, from the ground. My friends, however, are often concerned about the visitors who rest on the signpost outside their cottage. They have no doubt that if these people knew how (and particularly where) the animals used the sign they would probably avoid it altogether or at the very least wash their hands after touching it.

When you’ve got an itch – you’ve just got to scratch

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New Forest: ponies and pigs can be friends

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

Autumn is definitely here. Pannage season is upon us and the annual pony drifts are currently underway*. During the drifts the semi-feral ponies and foals are rounded up for inspection, released back onto the Forest or taken away to be sold, trained, or kept on their commoning owners’ holdings for the winter. Watching the ponies coming in and seeing them up close in the pound gives their owners, the Agisters, and any attending animal welfare inspectors, a chance to assess their health and condition. The ponies are looking well this year. There has been no shortage of grazing for them and their free-roaming existence means that they can find all the other resources they need to thrive within their territories. I know I am biased, but I cannot imagine why anyone would want any other breed of pony to use for riding or driving. Not only is the New Forest pony a hardy animal, but it is so inured to the landscape that all the hazards and obstacles that test other ponies and horses visiting the area are taken in its stride.

Peril of pigs
At the moment, with pannage season, comes the peril of pigs. It is a widespread belief among the equine community that ponies (and horses) are terrified of pigs – and will ‘flip out’ at the sight or smell of them. No one seems to know why this should be, but I have heard explanations that range from domestic pigs resembling wild boar or bears, to the smell of pigs being close to that of carnivores (lions), or just simply being downright unpleasant to the sensitive nostrils of the horse. There have been no scientific studies on this subject, that I know of, to provide any insight. However, horses being prey animals are, of course, naturally alert to danger and have highly developed senses to help them detect potential threats. For whatever reason the porcine/equine encounter seems to be a thing most dreaded by horse riders. Nevertheless, many of the free-roaming Forest ponies are accustomed to their piggy neighbours and do not seem to find their presence alarming at all. I think possibly it’s the exposure to these odd looking, funny sounding, strange smelling creatures that makes the difference between fear and familiarity. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to confirm this observation. Owners who stable their horses or ponies on or near pig-farms seem to have fewer problems riding out, as their mounts seem to be less fearful when meeting pigs. Even my own ponies, when staying on the holding, encounter my neighbour’s free-range pigs regularly and are more curious about them, than frightened. A lot depends on the attitudes of the pigs, of course, as with all well-handled animals, friendly pigs are more pleasant to encounter than unsociable swine; but rest-assured if you’re visiting the New Forest you’re not likely to meet the latter; as only peaceable commonable animals are permitted to roam the New Forest.

Contrary to popular opinion, pigs and ponies can be friends.

*IMPORTANT NOTE: The Verderers of the New Forest have announced that the ‘drifts’, or pony round-ups, are an essential part of the management of the semi-feral herd to maintain the health and welfare of the ponies.

For their own safety, members of the public are urged to avoid the area of the drift on the planned dates.

The dates of the #NewForest drifts are advertised to alert visitors and road-users to beware, NOT as an invitation to attend. #workingforest

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New Forest: pannage, a piggy priority

Wild boar once roamed freely in the New Forest but by the C17th were extinct.

One of the most significant periods in the New Forest calendar starts in mid-to-late September, when the trees begin to cast their fruit, in the form of acorns, beech-mast and chestnuts. Known as ‘pannage’ it is a time when pigs are turned out to roam freely and forage on the forest floor, to gorge themselves on the autumnal bonanza. Previously the dates for pannage were fixed to occur at the same time each year, but now they are decided by the Verderers of the New Forest and the Forestry Commission and, under certain conditions, can be extended past the usual 60-day period. (This year pannage starts on 11th September and ends on 12th November, inclusive.) Pannage is a custom that was established in the mists of time when forests were places that gave priority to animals, rather than trees. Indeed, Anglo-Saxon law decreed that:

Gif mon ponne aceorfe an treow, paet mage XXX swina undergestandan wyro undierne, geselle LX scill.[1]
(If, however, anyone cuts down a tree that can shelter 30 swine, and it becomes known, he shall pay 60 shillings.)

Even after the New Forest was created in 1079, by William the Conqueror, the economic and political importance of pigs dominated. In the Domesday Book, for example, which was presented to William I at Old Sarum (Salisbury) in 1086, forests were measured by the number of pigs they could support rather than counted by the acreage of trees. Under Norman forest law the owners of swine paid pannage dues for ‘agisting’ or pasturing their pigs in the forests, while herbage dues covered the pasturing of horses and cattle, a practice that still continues on today’s New Forest.[2] Pigs were the main kind of domestic stock in the Forest and the autumn, in particular, provided an opportunity to fatten them up on fallen acorns and beech-mast, finishing them off before they were slaughtered for the winter. Incidentally, the wild boar, which were hunted to extinction in the seventeenth century, were said to have mated with domestic New Forest sows, giving the off-spring a distinguished, boar-like appearance.

Training pigs
Domestic pig-keeping was an integral part of the homestead, and properties adjacent to the Forest relied on the benefits derived from the pannage season. An account, from 1838, describes how pigs were trained to the sound of a horn during feeding times, so that they would associate the sound with pleasant associations. When the swineherd blew on his horn the pigs would assemble, making them easier to manage on the Open Forest. It was remarked that, ‘If the swineherd is a man of talent in his way, the hogs are turned out in excellent condition, and very little more expense fits them for the market’.[3] Pigs were an important part of the rural economy and, according to a nineteenth century travel writer, Hampshire was a county renown for three things – bacon, the New Forest pony, and honey.[4] Pannage bacon remains very popular and because it is a seasonal delicacy renown for its rich, concentrated flavour, it is much in demand. Local butchers are usually the best source for those wanting to give it a try. The number of pigs running loose around the Forest will, inevitably, increase during pannage season. This means that people using the New Forest roads need to take extra care to avoid the piggy pedestrians – particularly now, as the nights are drawing in. Visitors to the Forest, also, should be aware of the increased presence of pigs and that no matter how appealing they look, under no circumstances should they be petted, fed by hand, or given food – even as a treat.

Domestic pig-keeping was an integral part of the homestead, and pannage season remains a significant period in the New Forest calendar.

Sources:

[1] F. L. Attenborough (ed.), The Laws of the Earliest Kings (Cambridge, 1922), Ine, c.44, p. 50.

[2] Eva Ritter, Dainis Dauksta (eds.), New Perspectives on People and Forests (London, 2011), 4.3.1, p. 52.

[3] Robert Mudie, Hampshire: its past and present condition, and future prospects, Vol. II (Winchester, 1838), p. 328.

[4] Richard John King, A handbook for travellers in Surrey, Hampshire, and the Isle of Wight, Third Edition, Revised (London, 1876), p. 192.

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New Forest: evening barbecues and uninvited guests

Dining out-of-doors requires good weather, good company and good food.

A recent spell of mild, sunny weather finally brought forth the idea of having a barbecue to my mind. What could be more pleasant than to invite a few friends over to enjoy an alfresco feast in an English country garden and watch the sun set over the New Forest? However, I was conscious that my guests would be plagued by the attentions of those most unwelcome of picnic seekers – wasps. I’ve been aware of a rather large colony that has made its nest in the flat roof on one of the farm buildings near the house. Their comings and goings have not impacted on my daily activities, other than being interrupted by the loud buzzing of an occasional colony member trapped in the kitchen. I’ve not felt threatened by their presence and, up until this point, I’ve been quite happy to leave well alone. On the whole wasps don’t upset me too much and, because they feed on the aphids that attack garden flowers and plants, can be good for the garden. But I kept thinking about the uncomfortable effect that a nearby colony containing 5,000-10,000 wasps would have on my guests. I have to admit to feeling a sense of perverse amusement when watching someone trying to avoid the attentions of a pestering wasp. The wasp-human interaction seems to bring on a bout of eccentric semaphore in the person, as they wave and flap their arms about to be rid of the mini-beast. Sometimes, this animated gesturing can turn into a fully-fledged dance that has every appearance of a marionette under the control of a novice puppeteer. To avoid such embarrassing antics, and the risk of someone being stung, I decided to take a look at some suggestions for getting rid of wasps and came across one that I definitely won’t be using.

Destroying Wasps in 1878
In the 1878 edition of the Journal of Horticulture and Practical Gardening, in an article entitled ‘Destroying Wasps’, I found what is undoubtedly an extreme and highly dangerous form of pest control. On a visit to the New Forest, the author of the article (W. F.) had come across one of the keepers setting fire to a wasp’s nest and decided to show him a form of ‘sugaring’ to try instead. Using a ‘good lump of cyanide of potassium’, which had been moistened and wrapped in a piece of rag, the author poked the bundle into the entrance of an active nest with a stick. After half an hour all the wasps were as dead as ‘red herrings’. Nevertheless, the author finished his article with a word of warning saying, ‘I ought to say that cyanide is a most deadly poison, and requires very careful handling, and after using it do not lick your fingers’. I should say not! Even small quantities of cyanide can be fatal within minutes, and the substance is now strictly controlled under the Poisons Act 1972. Thankfully, employing an experienced pest controller proved to be the solution to my wasp problem. My evening of outdoor dining went according to plan and the only pests present were my Labradors, moving like sharks under the table, ever hopeful for a fallen scrap or two. My guests thoroughly enjoyed their BBQ, without being troubled by buzzing insects and all without fear for licking their fingers.

Wasps are seldom welcome guests where people congregate

Source:

The Journal of Horticulture, Cottage Gardener and Country Gentleman: A Chronicle of the Homestead, Poultry Yard, Apiary & Dovecote Conducted by George W Johnson and Robert Hogg – October 30, 1878, page 335.

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New Forest: trees – our natural and cultural assets

Traditional management practices, particularly commoning, have sustained the ecology and environmental diversity of the New Forest.

Without a doubt, the free-roaming animals of the New Forest are an asset to the local economy and, as ‘architects of the Forest’, are one of the most important bio-forces that sustain the ecology and environmental constituency of the landscape. Commoners’ animals – ponies, cattle, and pigs – have been grazing the heathland, lawns and woods since ancient times. Their grazing and browsing habits have influenced the growth and management of one of the other major assets to the New Forest – its trees. The New Forest boasts many varieties of tree, some native species, such as oak, ash, beech and silver birch, as well as some introduced species, which include cedar, elm and sweet chestnut.[1] Many of these trees will have been quietly growing in their Forest home during some of the most formative events in our country’s history. The Knightwood Oak, for example, is one the most senior of the New Forest’s trees, and is believed to have been a mere sapling when Henry VIII and his court visited the Forest to hunt its deer. Indeed, once upon a time the Forest’s trees were robustly preserved as food and shelter for the king’s deer; then economic and political attitudes changed markedly and trees began to be seen as a resource to fuel industry, manufacturing and commerce. It now begs the question; what value do we place on trees today?

Valued asset or political expedient?
Our attitude and treatment of trees is a reflection of our wider outlook on the natural world, but this mind-set is not always to the credit of our species. A case in point is the policy of wholesale felling that has been adopted in Sheffield, through which thousands of trees have been cut down. This has been a disturbing development; more so, because the policy has been implemented in spite of convincing evidence supporting the preservation of the trees, and for being executed in the face of tremendous local and national opposition.[2] Some of these mature, but healthy, trees marked boundaries of old field-edges or were local landmarks, and some were even planted as memorials to those who gave their lives in both World Wars. However, Sheffield’s local authority has decided it is cheaper to remove the trees than to maintain them. More recently, a road-widening scheme could see Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Wisley lose 500 trees, including one planted by the Queen to mark her silver jubilee, to make way for ‘major improvements at the junction of the M25 and A3 in Surrey’. [3] The planned loss of trees, in order to accommodate infrastructure projects or to balance Council budgets, is an alarming precedent, which has troubling implications for those involved in preserving and managing the natural and cultural assets of our landscape. I am reminded of the English proverb, ‘He that plants trees loves others besides himself’. If planting trees is a benevolent act that will be enjoyed by others, what does it say about those who want to remove them? As I walk through the woods and glades of the New Forest, to check on my stock, I am thankful to all the Forest folk from previous generations who have left such a leafy legacy across this ancient landscape for the benefit of my animals and me. However, I am also wary of the need to be vigilant just in case the values of the Forest’s natural and cultural assets are replaced by a more profit-driven or politically expedient agenda.

If trees gave off Wi-Fi we’d be planting more.

SOURCES:

[1] ‘Discover British Trees’, Woodland Trust website: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/ [accessed 25 August 2017].

[2] ‘What the Experts Say’, Sheffield Tree Actions Groups website: https://savesheffieldtreesorguk.wordpress.com/what-the-experts-say/ [accessed 25 August 2017].

[3] ‘Alan Titchmarsh vows to save Queen’s tree in M25 row’, BBC News online (25 August 2017): http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-surrey-41037923http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-surrey-41037923 [accessed 25 August 2017].

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New Forest: biblical weather of yesteryear

The ‘Big Freeze’ of 1962-1963 is within living memory of many of the New Forest commoners.

This week our annual, late-summer appointment with the chimney sweep occurred, and just as well because there have been a few nights over the past week or so that I’ve been sorely tempted to light a fire in the hearth. Usually, fires are not lit at home until after the end of British Summer Time (BST), when the autumn clock’s go back an hour. Apparently though, I wasn’t the only customer to have been feeling the cold of late, and even the sweep had himself considered turning on the heating. Unseasonal weather in the New Forest is generally remembered more, I believe, because of its ‘working’ nature, either through forestry, or agriculture and commoning. People working out-of-doors and at the mercy of the elements do tend to become fixated on the weather. Though, some episodes from history, as recorded by contemporary accounts, have taken on seemingly biblical proportions; and a few of these singular meteorological events, such as the ‘Big Freeze’ of 1962-1963 have even occurred within living memory. Indeed, many commoners from the senior generation have plenty of tales to tell of floods, droughts, hurricanes and prolonged snowfall. This preoccupation with the weather has plenty of historical precedent, and is an acknowledged British pastime, but the eighteenth century, in particular, seems to have been a period for violent storms locally, giving people plenty to talk about.

The Great Storm
One of the first significant weather events widely recorded became known as ‘The Great Storm’. The damage done during the night of 26th November 1703 included upwards of 400 windmills that were either blown down or ‘took fire, by the violence with which their sails were driven round by the wind’.[1] It was reported that the Royal Navy had lost 15 ships, and more than 300 merchant vessels were destroyed, with upwards of 6,000 British seamen losing their lives.[2] At Ringwood and Fordingbridge several houses and trees were blown down, and many houses uncovered [i.e. had their roofs blown off].[3] According to one witness, above 4,000 trees were blown down in the New Forest, ‘some of prodigious Bigness’.[4] In July 1760 a violent thunderstorm fell near Fordingbrige and Ringwood casting so much rain, that the water of the brooks running from the New Forest into the River Avon was, ‘in less than an hours time’, raised to the height of ten or twelve feet.[5] This flash flood was so severe that ‘great quantities of hay and thread, which was whitening in the meadows near Fordingbridge, were swept away by the inundation, as were also great numbers of hogs, together with their sties. At Gorely eighteen hogs were carried off at once, but saved by the diligence of a neighbouring farmer’.[6]

Fordingbridge tornado
Newspapers in February 1770, reported that Fordingbridge parish church (St. Mary’s) was ‘much damaged by a tornado, which entirely stripped the lead off the north side of the roof of the middle aisle, from the tower even to the west door; the gust of wind was so furious that the sheets of lead weighing in the whole upwards of two ton, were many of them rent like paper, and all carried away with great velocity entirely over the said roof, and falling on the opposite side, carried with it several yards of the parapet wall, many large stones of which were thrown over into the south side of the Church-yard. To prevent any further desolation the workmen immediately ascended the church, but being unable to withstand the violence of the hurricane, were obliged to retire’.[7] Whether the eighteenth century was unusual, in terms of global weather patterns, I could not say; but it certainly put the recent chilly-snap of my experience into perspective.

Moody skies over the Forest: people working out-of-doors and at the mercy of the elements do tend to become fixated on the weather. 

SOURCES:

[1] ‘Royal Navy in Commission’ in The Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle for 1847 (London, 1847), p. 45.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Daniel Defoe, An Historical Narrative of the Great and Tremendous Storm: which happened on Nov, 26th, 1703 (London, 1769), p.88.

[4] Ibid, p. 113.

[5] Lloyd’s Evening Post and British Chronicle (London, England), July 7, 1760 – July 9, 1760.

[6] London Evening Post (London, England), July 8, 1760 – July 10, 1760.

[7] Lloyd’s Evening Post (London, England), February 12, 1770 – February 14, 1770.

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