New Forest: the rare brown hare

Brown hares were once found in the New Forest but are now rarely seen, if at all.

On a recent journey away from the Forest, where I had the pleasure to be a passenger rather than the driver, I was able to look out of the window and admire the scenery instead of concentrating on the road as usual. Passing a wide expanse of grassland I spotted the tell tale silhouette of a brown hare (Lepus europaeus), as it moved through the sward. This is an outline so distinctive that there is no other creature that can even begin to resemble it. Though in some circumstances hares are often mistaken for rabbits (or the other way around), which is much the same as confusing horses with cows. Thankfully for the uninitiated there are other clues, both physical and environmental, that reveal its true identity. Hares, for instance, are much bigger than rabbits and have longer, larger ears with a black tip to the ends. Hares are predominantly solitary creatures, though a lack of choice in places for them to eat may mean that they band together when feeding at suitable locations. Rabbits, on the other hand, are sociable; living in groups, know as herds – just like horses and cows. Hares live above ground in a ‘form’, which is a shallow depression in the ground or grass, and their only defensive strategy is to run from predators (now you understand why they need larger, longer ears – to hear their enemies coming). Rabbits live under the ground in burrows, often with a system of warrens, which they will run to, and hide, if threatened. The offspring of the rabbit is known as a ‘kitten’ or ‘kit’, whereas the offspring of a hare is known as a ‘leveret’. Rabbits make excellent companion animals, but hares are completely unsuited to life in captivity as pets – though many have tried to tame them.

Hare in decline
Hares were once found in the New Forest, but are now rarely encountered, if at all. According to the Hare Preservation Trust, during the late 1800s there were about four million brown hares in Britain, but their numbers have declined by more than 80% during the past 100 years and the decline continues.[1] There are several factors identified as possible causes for the loss of brown hares in our countryside, including changes in farming practices that are not sympathetic to the hare’s lifestyle. In the New Forest, common opinion points to the rise in the number of dogs allowed to run off the lead. Even our most docile pet, once off the lead and free to run, will follow their instinct and begin hunting.[2] Unfortunately, hares leave their young in the form, only returning once a day for the first four weeks to feed them. During this time the leverets are vulnerable to predation from dogs. The baby hares can be killed and eaten without the dog owner even realising that it’s happened. Adult hares can reach speeds of up to 72 km.p.h (45 m.p.h)[3] and are pound for pound are faster than a cheetah, so are unlikely to be caught by dogs; it is the loss of baby hares that is a another factor in their population decline. In order to preserve this fascinating and alluring species it is up to us to be mindful of their young during their breeding season, which lasts from February until September.  This is true for other wild creatures, including our ground nesting birds, and another good reason to stay on the designated tracks with our dogs under control when out enjoying the New Forest.

The New Forest is a landscape of irreplacable habitats that supports a diversity of wildlife.


[1] BBC Nature website:

[1] Hare Preservation Trust website:

[2] Colin Tubbs, The New Forest, History, Ecology, Conservation (Lyndhurst, 2001), p. 329.

See also: Mammal Society Species Fact Sheet: Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus)

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Some stallion stories

A coach, similar to the one pictured, was overturned by the actions of an aggressive stallion, in 1830

To celebrate the commencement of the New Forest pony breeding season, which runs from 15th May until 19th June 2017, and is when licensed stallions are released to run with the free-roaming Forest mares, I thought that I would take a look through my history files to see if I could find some stallion stories. It seems that stallions in general, but particularly the Thoroughbred and Arabian breeds, have long been celebrated in press for their characteristics, such as physical beauty, sporting prowess and the ability to sire champions. This is why both types have, historically, been mixed with New Forest ponies. Marske, the sire of Eclipse, arguably the most famous racehorse in history, was kept in the New Forest for a time to be put with Forest mares. As soon as his famous son became recognised as an athletic superstar, Marske was sold on at a vast profit to be used on more distinguished thoroughbred stock.[1]  Two purebred Arabian stallions, Abeyan and Yurasson, were loaned by Her Majesty Queen Victoria, to be kept at stud by Lord Montague of Beaulieu and David Jones of Warborne, in Boldre, respectively; but the commoners complained that unless they were run with the Forest mares they would have no impact in ‘improving’ the breed. Other nineteenth century attempts to develop the New Forest pony breed have included stallions, such as, Sprig of Shillelagh, an ex-Irish Steeplechaser, who was kept at Harrow Farm, Bransgore, to service visiting mares; and Hebridean, Blue Roan, West Highlander and Brockenhurst Joe all of which were turned out on the Forest ‘in various quarters and kept in pasture during the winter season.’ According to reports Blue Roan and Hebridean both died in the Forest in the early autumn of 1892, ‘having done good service.’ Unfortunately the report does not mention exactly how the two stallions died but it was recorded that Blue Roan had been earlier ‘knocked about’ by another horse, to such an extreme that the offending animal had to be removed from the Forest.

Dangerous and indecent practice
Stallions were not always the easiest animals to handle and there are many accounts of their unpredictable and aggressive behaviour. In one incident, reported in the Hampshire Advertiser in April 1830, a stallion that was being led by a servant of its owner attacked one of the horses pulling the Exeter and Bath mail coach, as it made its way to London. The coach-horse was badly kicked and in the ensuing melee the mail coach over-turned severely injuring many of the passengers, as some, who had been sitting as outside passengers, were thrown off.[2] In 1837, as reported in the Hampshire Advertiser & Salisbury Guardian, there was an outcry against the ‘dangerous and indecent practice’ of exhibiting stallions in public when during a market in Petersfield a stallion had kicked out at passing horse, which was pulling a light cart, breaking its ribs. Bystanders managed to coax the injured animal to a nearby stable where it had to be put out of its misery the next day.[3] Nevertheless, stallions were (and still are) valuable animals and in an era where agriculture, industry and commerce relied on horsepower it was important to produce quality horses, of all breeds that could be employed in all types of work. ,

Licensed New Forest stallions
In times past incentives were available for the production of quality horses. Some agriculture shows, for example, even offered decent prize money for stallion classes in order to attract the finest examples of horseflesh. In July 1844, the Royal Agricultural Show offered 30 sovereigns (equivalent to approximately £1,323 in today’s money) to ‘the owner of the best stallion for agricultural purposes, of 4 years old, and upwards’.[4] Prize money was also offered in local shows, as an inducement to farmers to present their top horses. In November 1845, the Lymington Agricultural Society reported that Thomas Cheyney had received £5 5s (equivalent to approximately £231.53 in today’s money) for ‘the owner of the best cart stallion’, although it was admitted that his was the only entry in that class.[5] The Times reported that War Office premiums had been awarded to several ponies presented at the Lyndhurst annual show, in 1930, including Mrs. Grosvenor’s Orchard Wellington, which had won two cups and a medal in the previous year, and had secured the cup for the best five-year old forest-bred stallion, which had run in the Forest since three years old. (The War Office premium is a reminder that horsepower was also used in warfare too.) Of course in those days stallions roamed with the mares all year round and part of the Agister’s job, back then, would have been to break up the fights between the stallions. The year 1930 marked the period from which only registered, licenced stallions were allowed to run with the free-roaming mares. The New Forest stallions of today are much more civilised in their behaviour, but this does not mean that they necessarily behave like pets. The stallions are released each year to do a job, and visitors to the Forest are reminded that, to avoid incident or injury, it is best to leave them alone to get on with it.

Marske was used as a Forest stallion for four years and was the sire of the legendary racehorse Eclipse.

If you have any interesting or amusing stories about New Forest stallions please share them with me by emailing: info@newforestcommoner


[1] See: Eclipse – the Son of Marske

[2] ‘Mail Coach Accident’, Hampshire Advertiser, Saturday April 1830.

[3] ‘Petersfield’, Hampshire Advertiser & Salisbury Guardian, Saturday Evening, April 22, 1837.

[4] In 1840, 30 Sovereigns (£30) would have the same spending worth of 2005’s £1,323.00. Figures calculated using the National Archives Currency Converter:

[5] In 1840, £5 5s 0d would have the same spending worth of 2005’s £231.53. Figures calculated using the National Archives Currency Converter:

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New Forest: “I thought it would be bigger!”

The New Forest is a landscape without equal.

Living in or around the New Forest is a pleasure and a privilege that many of us sometimes take for granted, as a friend of mine discovered recently. She had travelled from London to the New Forest bringing with her a young relative who had never visit the area before. They reached the junction at Cadnam and turned off the M27 to travel north on the B3079. It was a beautiful day by all accounts. The sun was shining gently, and the lush greens of the grasses, hedgerows and unfurling leaves of the trees were contrasted by the bluest of cloudless skies. At the entrance to the B3079 was a speed restriction sign, which clearly displayed the words ‘New Forest 40’. At this point they travelled over the cattle-grid, crossing the metal poles placed across an open pit in the ground, which are laid to prevent the livestock from straying off the Forest. This was something the young relative had never seen before and the sensation of the crossing proved to be quite a talking point. However, when they had travelled as far as Brook, the youngster loudly declared their disappointment. My astonished friend enquired why that could be, and the young relative answered, “Well, I thought the New Forest would have been bigger than that”. It transpired that the young relative, confused by the wording on the village sign, believed that they had already left the New Forest. My friend laughed to think that after extolling the virtues of this wonderful landscape, its flora and fauna, and free-roaming livestock to the young relative, they could only conceive of such a small area.

Cultural and natural asset
Of course, the boundary, or perambulation, of the New Forest has changed over time and was once much bigger than the 150 sq. miles (388 sq. km) it is now. In fact, at one point it is believed that a third of the whole area of England was designated, like the New Forest, as a royal forest. The forests were places where forest law, rather than common law prevailed and, according to a treatise, written in 1598, was a …certain Territory of woody grounds & fruitful pastures, privileged for wild beast and fowls, of Forest, Chase and Warren, to rest and abide in, in the safe protection of the King, for his princely delight and pleasure… Traditional management practices, such as commoning, which were supported by the forest law system, created a rural landscape throughout the country that would have been familiar to everyone. Indeed, once upon a time the city would have been an alien landscape, as the majority of people lived in the country rather than the other way around, as it is today. So, I suppose my friends’ young relative travelling from our nation’s capital can be forgiven for not recognising one of our country’s greatest cultural and natural assets – the New Forest. The story at least has a happy ending. My friend was able to show the young city dweller the delights of the New Forest’s historic landscape, including its free-roaming livestock; and to re-experience, through the eyes of the next generation, the wonder and excitement of such a discovery.

Traditional management practices, particularly commoning, have conserved the ecological diversity of the Forest.

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New Forest: newborn foals and spring arrive together

The foals born on the New Forest follow an ancient lineage.

The past few weeks of visiting the New Forest to check on my free-roaming mares have been a reminder to all my senses of just how glorious a place this is. The sound of the cuckoo, skylark and lapwing in the early mornings; the aromatic smell of coconut from the blooming gorse bushes; the feel of spring sunshine on my skin; and, the sight of foals appearing among the pony herds, are just a few of the sentient delights of living in such a unique part of the world. The foals are a particularly important part of the commoning tradition and their arrival, from late April onwards, is a cause for much celebration. The stallions that sire these precious youngsters do not roam on the Forest all-year round, in the way that the mares and geldings do, but are released for only four weeks each year. The rest of the year they live in a large bachelor herd with other males in the breeding programme. By limiting the time the stallions spend on the Forest, means that the pony-breeding season can be carefully managed to ensure the best well-being outcomes for the mares and foals. A pony’s gestation period lasts for eleven months and the breeding that takes place, when the stallions are released from early May until June, will produce foals in the following April/May. The arrival of the foals will then coincide with that of the spring grass and, hopefully, the better weather, making it easier for the mothers and their babies to maintain good health and condition.

Stallion/Breeding Season
The Verderer’s of the New Forest, the Commoners’ Defence Association and the New Forest Pony Breeding & Cattle Society carefully select the stallions that will sire the next generation of New Forest pony. Only approved stallions are permitted to run out on the Forest with the free-roaming mares to breed. At the last Verderers Court the names of the stallions that will be turned out this year, along with the dates they will be at liberty, were announced. Some of the stallions attract an almost celebrity status among the commoners and at the Court session, when some of the names were read out, murmurs of approval rippled around the hall. Although there are no stallions listed for the areas in which my mares have been turned out, it doesn’t necessarily follow that I won’t get any foals next year. Mares have been known to travel many miles out of their territories to find a stallion of their liking; and, stallions too have been known to wander to other areas. The only sure way to be certain that ones mares won’t receive the attention of the stallion is to remove them from the Forest for the few weeks that the boys are at liberty. However, the point of the breeding season is to produce foals that will maintain one of our most historic and endearing pony breeds. Visitors to the New Forest need to take extra care when travelling on the Forest roads, as many of the foals will be grazing with their mothers on the verges, or using the roads to traverse their territories. Give extra consideration at this time to the animals in New Forest and pass wide and slow on the roads; also, admire at a distance any foals or other newborn animals encountered there.

Since 1930 only purebred stallions have been permitted on the Open Forest to sire the next generation of New Forest pony.

The Stallion Areas for 2017 can be found HERE.

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New Forest Stallion Areas 2017

New Forest Stallion Turnout Areas 2017

Each year stallions are released onto the Open Forest to run with the free-roaming mares and sire the next generation of New Forest pony. The stallions are carefully selected by the Verderer’s of the New Forest, the Commoners’ Defence Association and the New Forest Pony Breeding & Cattle Society. Only approved stallions are permitted to run with the mares to breed, and do so for only four weeks each year.

The stallions are released on Monday 15th May until Monday 12th June, and must be removed from the Forest by Monday 19th June 2017. The stallions chosen for each area are listed below:

Lucky Lane Warrior – Busketts

Cameron Luck of the Irish – Acres Down

Halestorm Branston Pickle – Hilltop

Sandhole Whispering Grass – Penn Common

Portmore Thunder Cloud – Wilverley

Sway Scrumpy Jack – Setley

Brookshill Brumby – East Boldre

Woodfidley Top Gun – Balmer Lawn

Haywards Impressionist – Backley

Knavesash Gold Fever – Withybeds

Skywalker – Ogdens

Lovelyhill Hendrix – Linford

Bakeburn Benny – Wootton

Bull Hill Major – Stoney Cross

Limekiln Brigadier – Matley/Ipley

Stallions will be turned out from Monday 15th May until Monday 12th June 2017.  (All stallions must be off by Monday 19th June 2017).

Please be aware that during the stallion season the free-roaming ponies will be preoccupied and their behaviour may be unpredictable.

When the stallions are at large on the New Forest the wild pony herds exhibit much excitement.

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New Forest: itchy, scratchy, lousy!

The bluebells that carpet the woodlands are a popular sight with visitors to the New Forest.

I went for a walk this week, in a part of the Forest that I don’t usually visit. I wanted to see if the bluebells had bloomed, so went on a route that took in one of the Forestry Commission enclosures. I could see spots of blue beginning to emerge from underneath the leaf-litter of the forest floor, but not the profusion of azure set amongst the verdant green colours that one normally associates with the bluebell season. I knew that I’d have to be patient and wait a day or two more to get the full effect of this most pleasing display. I nevertheless continued on and emerged from the other side of the enclosure a mile or two from my normal walking route. I hadn’t gone very far before I came across a herd of ponies quietly grazing beside the track. In their midst was a young bay pony that I’ve been missing for a while. I was pleased to see her again and, although she looked up momentarily, she continued to graze without really registering my presence. Her companions ignored me totally. I was able to quietly appraise my filly’s condition, and she looked generally as ponies do at this time of year, particularly if they have lived out all winter. I noticed that she had been rubbing herself, as small bald patches were showing on her coat. On closer inspection I could see that she was carrying lice.

Ponies with lice
There are several types of lice that can live on equines, but in this case the culprit was Damalinia equi. This wasn’t entirely a shock, as lice are a common sight on the free-roaming animals, particularly at this time of year. (Lice are not confined to the semi-wild populations of free-roaming New Forest ponies and donkeys, but also affected stable-kept horses, ponies and donkeys too.) Damalinia are biting parasites that can be seen with the naked eye, and prefer to feed on areas of the pony with shorter body hairs, such as the neck, flanks and around the base of the tail. The patches on my pony were behind her front legs, but were not extensive or deep. The bite of the Damalinia is very itchy and you may notice some ponies exhibiting scratching-behaviour in the spring, which most people associate with the shedding of their winter coats, but could in fact be caused by lice. Of course, if she were one of my home-kept ponies I would be able to wash her with the appropriate veterinary treatment, but semi-wild ponies are a different proposition, as they do not like to be handled – let alone bathed!  Now that I know the area she is in, and have identified the ponies she is with, I should be able to find her again. I will keep an eye out and make sure that she doesn’t become infested with lice or suffer as a result of her scratching. Luckily, New Forest ponies are able to cope well with parasites and do not seem to be affected by lice in the summer months. Further good news is that Damalinia equi are species specific and, while they can crawl on you, they won’t bite you. This is, of course, another good reason why visitors to the New Forest should just look at the ponies and not touch them.

New Forest ponies have thick coats to keep them warm and dry in winter; but parasites, such as lice, can find them cosy places to breed and feed.

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New Forest: Look, but don’t touch the animals

Visitors who feed the New Forest ponies, and other livestock, are teaching them not to fear humans or cars.

This week I had a long Twitter conversation with someone concerned about the amount of people feeding and petting the donkeys at Hatchet Pond, near Beaulieu. In one incident a family went even further, and were trying to force a donkey foal into the lap of a child seated on the ground, so that the mother could take a photo. (Readers with access to social media may have seen similar images and videos doing the rounds of people rolling around on the floor cuddling baby elephants and thoroughbred foals etc.) My outraged follower was incensed by such an exhibition of cruelty, and asked if there was at least a fine for feeding the animals in the New Forest. The short answer is, of course, yes. There is a fine of £200 and the risk of a criminal record, if you are successfully prosecuted for feeding a commonable animal in the New Forest.

Under the New Forest Byelaws (Statutory Instruments 2010, No. 993), Section 16:
(1) No person other than the owner, or a person appointed as their agent or an agister shall hand feed or attempt to hand feed any horse, bovine animal, sheep or pig depastured in the Forest.
(2) No person shall place in the Forest any material that might be consumed by horses, bovine animal, sheep or pigs depastured in the Forest, except that the owner or a person appointed as their agent may place straw, hay or other feedstuffs approved by the Verderers in the Forest for the benefit of the owner’s horses, bovine animal, sheep or pigs in such places as shall have been previously approved for that purpose by the Verderers.
(3) In this byelaw “agister” means a person who is for the time being employed or appointed as an agister by the Verderers.

The New Forest’s free-roaming livestock (ponies, donkeys, cattle, pigs and, in some areas, sheep) are owned by local people with ‘common rights’, who are responsible for the care and maintenance of their animals. (The animals are not wild, therefore, but semi-feral.) New Forest common rights are administrated and protected by the Verderer’s, who have the power and legal status of a magistrate. The Verderers employ Agisters, whose job it is to assist the commoners and make sure that they keep their animals to an appropriate standard. Visitors who feed the animals are interfering with their upkeep.

Big no-no!
The reason that feeding the Forest animals is such a big no-no is because it seriously jeopardises their safety and welfare. Hand feeding encourages aggression, because the animals demand food from visitors and often get very upset when there is none or when the supply runs out. People feeding the waterfowl, at places like Hatchet Pond, are often surrounded by donkeys insisting on being fed too. Some visitors, in trying to protect the food for the ducks and swans, have been chased and even mugged by the animals jealous for their share. Hand feeding also teaches the ponies and donkeys to bite. Visitors unused to holding out titbits for equines can be very tentative about offering them an outstretched palm bearing food. This faltering motion teaches the ponies and donkeys to lunge, in order to try and quickly snatch the proffered food. Many people are bitten in this scenario dropping the food as a result. The animals then learn that if they just bite they’ll get the food that was dropped on the floor by the nervous visitor. This aggressive (and learned) behaviour can lead to the permanent removal from the Forest of the offending pony or donkey, which is not fair to an animal that was born there. Animals displaying bad behaviour or violence to humans are difficult to sell on, do not make good pets, and in extreme cases may have to be put down.

Human Food is not animal food.
Hand feeding or leaving food out on the verges also encourages the animals into the car parks and onto the roads, where they are exposed to the dangers of vehicular traffic. I have seen ponies squabbling over a pile of apples left by a busy roadside, completely oblivious to the passing traffic in their fight for the food. I even heard this week that a woman has been seen driving through a village in the northern part of the Forest throwing handfuls of carrots onto the verge as she drives along in her car! Some people actually feed the New Forest animals from inside their cars, and happily post the results on social media. These people are in effect training the ponies and donkeys not to fear cars, caravans or other motorised transport. Consequently, people who feed the animals are directly contributing to the number of ponies and donkeys killed or injured on the Forest roads. There is also another important point – human food is not animal food. There are certain foodstuffs, particularly picnic treats and snacks, which are not good for ponies and donkeys to eat. Items such as potatoes, either as chips or crisps, chocolate, tomatoes and onions are toxic to all equines. Other foods can even give the animals a serious or fatal colic, and anything containing meat should not be fed to a herbivore. The free roaming animals of the New Forest are an asset to the local economy, its cultural heritage, and are symbolic of its special qualities. There is enough natural food available on the Open Forest to sustain the free roaming animals, without them being fed by visitors. The best way to appreciate the animals is to look and not touch. If you are concerned, however, about the condition of any animal in the New Forest then please contact the Verderers’ Office and report it.

Hand feeding the New Forest animals, however well-intentioned, is prohibited by law.

Know who to call for incidents involving the commonable livestock of the New Forest:
(contact the Forestry Commission regarding deer and other wildlife).

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New Forest: animal accidents – multiple causes/multiple solutions

Animal road accidents are always a concern, but more so when the foals are born in spring.

This week the subject of animal accidents on the Forest roads has been very much at the forefront of my mind. I’ve been watching with interest the comments on various social media forums, reading newspaper reports, listening to radio broadcasts, and attending meetings where the subject of speeding cars, hit-and-runs, and the toll of livestock inevitably surfaces for discussion. As I go about the Forest and see the in-foal mares who will soon be giving birth to the next generation of free-roaming pony I sigh deeply and hope that ways to address the situation can be found – and soon. I say ‘ways’ because this is a problem that has multiple causes, including visitors feeding the ponies in the car parks and on the roads; drivers speeding; and, drivers not paying attention or not driving according to the road conditions. Therefore it is an issue that will need multiple solutions, such as discouraging the unauthorised feeding of the ponies; making the road surfaces lighter in colour in order to make animals in the road, particularly at night, stand out more; perhaps returning some of the roads to gravel tracks, to slow drivers down and make them drive with more care; and even reducing the speed limits or closing some roads between dusk and dawn. These solutions would be much more preferable to that of fencing the Open Forest roads and installing road-bridges for the animals to cross, as has also been suggested. There are, it has been offered, even technological solutions that may help in the future, such as driverless cars and cars that can warn the driver of nearby ‘obstacles’, such as animals in the road, but these are a long way from being perfected.[1]

Green solution
There are also environmental ways of helping to solve the problem. One such ‘green solution’ uses the stream and wetland restoration works, which reinstate the natural functions of the Forest’s catchment system. Many of the Forest’s mires and streams were damaged by the man-made drainage channels, which were installed for timber production in the 19th and 20th centuries. Although reducing animal accidents is not the main reason for undertaking such restoration work it does have some very beneficial outcomes for the animals of the New Forest. Wetland restoration improves the grazing by allowing the natural cycle of flooding to return, which covers areas with nutrient-rich water. This action provides an important source of grazing for commoners’ animals, particularly in the early spring when the first flush of growth precedes the growth of most grasses.[2] This means that the animals stay in the valleys to graze for longer periods, keeping them away from the roads and dangers of the traffic.

Whose responsibility is it?
The responsibility for reducing the rate of animal accidents is shared between all of us who use of the Forest roads – although many organisations, communities, and road-user groups do undertake initiatives to address the problem. There has been a reduction in the overall numbers of animals killed or injured on the Forests’ roads, but many would argue that one death is a death too many, and that we must not become complacent. The free-roaming livestock has right of way on all roads, and must be given priority. The commoners’ animals that roam the New Forest are an intrinsic and important part of its alluring landscape. The sight of ponies, cattle, donkeys, pigs and, in some areas, sheep, is one of the many joys of visiting the New Forest. The reduction of animal accidents is, therefore, part of a wider scheme to improve the New Forest environment to the benefit of all. In the meantime the campaign to raise awareness and implore drivers to stay under the 40-mile an hour speed limit continues.

Flood water carries nutrients, which enriches the grazing for the New Forests’ livestock.

NB: This link contains an ‘Animal Accident map’, by species, between 2011-2015, showing were collisions with livestock have occurred.


[1] BBC News website, ‘Driverless car test call over New Forest animal deaths’,

[2] George Peterken, Jonathan W Spencer, Alison B Field, ‘3.8 – Rivers and Wetlands’, Maintaining the Ancient and Ornamental Woodlands of the New Forest, available at:

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New Forest: spring-time musings

Last year’s haymaking produced a bumper crop of backbreaking work.

I was going through my diary to see what I was doing this time last year. I was wondering when I had moved the home-kept ponies off their winter grazing and into their spring paddocks. When did I begin to harrow, re-seed and fertilise the winter pasture ready for summer haymaking? The weather, it seems, was much wetter in 2016 and for a while I was worried about the fields getting too poached, which is when areas get over-used and broken up under the ponies hooves, such as around gateways or troughs, and become overly muddy. This would have had an impact on the hay crop, because any muddied areas would have to be repaired and re-seeded and, if they didn’t recover in time, would consequently affect the hay yield. As it happens, last year was a bumper harvest and, like many of my horse-owning friends, I still have plenty of hay left over from last year. All due, no doubt, to the prolonged  spring rains. Now, of course, I have the quandary of – do I dispose of last years hay and take a new crop? Or, do I try to make do with the year-old hay and not have to worry about the backbreaking work at harvest time? Decisions! Decisions! When so much depends upon the prevailing weather conditions it is difficult to make definite future plans. Last years events in my diary, it seems, are a merely guide and not a blue-print.

African migrants
Also, I noticed, at this time last year I received the advance-party of my regular African visitors – the migrating swallows (Hirundo rustica). I always reserve a stable for their use during the summer, as the ponies have no use for it. Their mud nests adorn the walls, ceiling and beams, but the mess they made (and they do make a lot of mess) will have been cleared up as part of my winter maintenance. I have peeked quietly inside the stable and, as yet, there is no sign of them. They are welcome visitors to my holding because each day they eat thousands of the flying insects that pester the ponies. I wait with anticipation for their arrival. I know for certain that the cuckoos (Cuculus canorus), which announce their arrival from about mid-April, are on their way however. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is tracking an individual bird, named Selborne, on his journey to Hampshire. Selborne was ringed in the New Forest last year and given his name by the Hampshire Ornithological Society (HOS) in memory of Gilbert White, who was a pioneering 18th century naturalist and ornithologist from Selborne in east Hampshire. The bird’s progress across the digital map, on the BTO website, reminds me of the NORAD Santa tracker that children watch avidly at Christmas time. For an amateur ornithologist, such as myself, the track across my laptop screen getting ever closer to home is viewed with the same excited anticipation. He’s currently in Spain and, hopefully, will arrive safe and sound in the next week or so and, as cuckoos are traditionally the heralds of spring, let’s hope he doesn’t take any longer.

The cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)  is a regular visitor to the New Forest and is heard rather than seen.

To followed Selborne’s progress please visit:

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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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