New Forest: registering foals with the Breed Society

Being registered with the Breed Society marks an important milestone in the life of a New Forest foal.

Pure bred, forest born, New Forest foals are an important asset to the New Forest’s ecology, culture and economy.  This week has therefore marked an important milestone in my commoning career to date, as I have registered my foals with the New Forest Pony Breeding & Cattle Society (NFPB&CS). The first society for the improvement of New Forest ponies was set up in 1891 to run a stallion show, followed in 1905 by the Burley and District NF Pony Breeding and Cattle Society who started the Stud Book and the Breed Show. In 1937 the Society for the Improvement of New Forest Ponies merged with the Burley and District NF Pony Breeding and Cattle Society producing the official Breed Society that today maintains and updates the New Forest Pony Stud Book.

NFPB&CS registration
A pony is eligible for pedigree registration with the Society only if both its sire and dam are included in the New Forest Stud Book and it complies with the conditions that are set out in the Society Rules. The former condition was not a problem for my foals, as both sets of parents are registered with the NFPB&CS. The latter condition meant producing the correct details on an application form and submitting appropriate identification details to the NFPB&CS. The identification form includes a written description accompanied by a sketch, which details distinguishing features. The features are identifiers, such as a star, blaze, or snip, on the face; socks or stockings on the legs; and, whorls on the neck, head and body. The ID sketch must be completed to an acceptable standard by a Society-approved identifier. Luckily, one of my commoning friends has been sketching foals for a while and came with me to complete the identification details for mine.

Hide and seek with camouflaged foals
On a beautifully clear, but bitterly cold, day my friend and I went foal finding. We were able to find most of the foals that we were looking for but one of mine was proving particularly elusive. It was the last foal we needed to find, typically. Eventually after hours of searching, by transecting the territory her band were known to frequent, a curious little foal’s head popped up out of a patch of bracken, in which she was perfectly camouflaged, and we found her. The paperwork was completed quickly as the temperatures plummeted. With all the identification sketches drawn we decided to retreat to the warmth of my friend’s holding to complete the application forms.

How now brown cow?
As we approached the holding there at the field gate was a large brown cow. It was the last of the cattle my friend had depastured in the Forest and, with all the other cows that had come in previously happily enclosed in the field, the solitary cow was wanting to join them. We had to laugh. While some animals take a lot of looking-for others just come and find you. We didn’t need to herd the cow into the field, as she was so keen to join her friends she just wandered in when the gate was opened. We celebrated our success with a well-earned mug of tea in front of the fire.

Pure bred, forest born, New Forest foals are an important asset to the ecology, culture and economy of the New Forest.

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New Forest: Autumn colours signal pannage season

The colours that nature paints across the New Forest landscape in autumn are just beautiful.

The colours that nature paints across the New Forest landscape are superior to any artist.

Autumn on the New Forest is always a time of spectacle. The breaking dawn bursting upon the ancient landscape painted with reds, lilacs, browns and oranges is a visual treat guaranteed to draw wonder from those who rise early enough to witness it. The colours of the autumnal leaves as they turn to gold, copper, yellow and red are a significant tourist attraction and a warming visual treat before the cold of winter finally denudes the trees of cover. Of course the autumn also signals important events in the commoning calendar. Apart from the annual cycle of pony round-ups, one of the most unusual sights during the autumn on the New Forest has to be that of pigs roaming loose during pannage season.

Commoners who have the right of  ‘Common of Mast’ can turn out domestic pigs to feed on beech mast, chestnuts and fallen acorns. The dates of the pannage season, when the pigs roam free, are decided by the Verderers and Forestry Commission but usually start when the acorns begin to drop from the oak trees and will continue for about two months. The pigs serve an important part of the ecology of the Forest and, in particular, relish the fallen acorns that when eaten in excessive amounts are poisonous to ponies and cattle. In former times the numbers of pigs foraging on the Forest during pannage would have been between 5,000-6,000 animals. Today, however, there is more likely to be up to 600 pigs roaming the Forest.

Free-ranging pigs, like the ponies, donkeys and cattle on the Forest, have right of way on the roads. The pigs, though domesticated, are not tame and the same respect (probably more so) that you would show to any of the other free-roaming animals should be extended to them. There are many stories and indeed videos of people being chased and even mauled by pigs roaming the New Forest but these incidents have usually occured because of some provocation by hapless humans. It is not a good idea to feed the pigs, however willing they may be, as you’ll soon upset them when the food runs out and you try to walk away.

The Wessex Saddleback, which was once associated with the New Forest, is extinct in Britain as a separate breed, but if you are really lucky during pannage season you may see some of the old English breeds of pig – such as the Large White, Tamworth, Berkshire or British Saddleback. During this time of year you may also find local shops selling pig-shaped chocolates, cakes and biscuits in celebration of this country tradition – for those who like their pigs more sweet than salt.

Pannage season is an important event in the commoning calendar and a popular tradition.

NOTE: Pannage dates: from Monday 10th September until Sunday 11th November (inclusive) pigs will be turned out to feast on the acorns and mast in the Open Forest. 🐖 🐖 🐖 Please take extra care when driving on the #NewForest roads. #pigawareness #add3minutes #realnewforest

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New Forest: good fences make good neighbours.

Ponies who regularly wandered beyind the Forest boundary to graze the verges were known as 'Lane Creepers'.

Ponies that regularly wandered beyond the Forest boundary to graze the verges were known as ‘Lane Creepers’.

‘Good fences make good neighbours’ is an oft-quoted phrase that could have been coined with the New Forest and its free-roaming animals in mind. Whilst the New Forest is referred to as ‘the largest tract of unenclosed land in southern England’ visitors will notice that there still seem to be plenty of fences about. The greatest of these is the perimeter fencing that marks the boundary, or ‘perambulation’ of the Forest, which was completed in 1965. This mammoth task, which included the installation of cattle-grids, was undertaken to address the issue of livestock straying away from the Forest. It’s difficult to imagine now but prior to this the Forest animals could wander into places such as Ringwood, Totton, Romsey, up towards Salisbury and even, in one incident, as far as Abbotts Ann, near Andover. These ‘Lane Creepers’ could cause allsorts of mischief and mayhem, as they would often get into people’s gardens, farmer’s fields, or onto busy roads and town centres. Fencing the perambulation ensured that in the future the free-roaming animals would be kept in.

Advice from the Verderers
For people living and working inside the boundary, and those whose properties abut the Forest, the concerns are quite different as they, on the other hand, want to keep the commonable animals out! The responsibility lies with the landowner to ensure that their homes, gardens, fields or other property are donkey, cattle, pony or pig-proof. It is in the nature of the commonable animals to roam freely and if your fencing is inadequate or non-existent then that roaming activity could include your property. The Verderers of the New Forest frequently remind property owners that ‘fences that keep ponies and cattle out will not necessarily be adequate to stop pigs.’ This sound piece of advice is particularly important during pannage season, when commoners with Right of Mast are able to turn their pigs out onto the Open Forest to roam. It is a well-known fact that pigs are masterly at gaining access to or egress from places that you would not think possible. They seem to be very clever at squeezing through small gaps in fences or hedges and have even been known to root underneath wire fencing, lift it up with their snouts and walk underneath it. If you’ve ever experienced the mayhem caused by a ‘wild’ pony that has managed to get trapped in your garden, it is nothing to compared to the pandemonium that can occur when a herd of excited pigs find themselves in the same situation. The commoning owner cannot be held responsible for any damage that may occur in such circumstances and, indeed, the landowner may be liable if the animal concerned is injured or becomes sick as a result of its unintentional captivity.

Village local averts catastrophy
However, there are instances where well-meaning Forest visitors have inadvertently caused commonable stock to get trapped. In one example, which occurred at about this time of year a decade or so again, some holidaymakers were astounded to see a large sow and her many piglets in the middle of the road making their way through one of the villages in the northern part of the Forest. They assumed that she must have escaped and began herding the pig and her offspring into a gateway, which was attached to the only property along the road. This, the holidaymakers had deduced, was where the pigs had come from. Luckily a passing local saw what was happening and stopped them. The property into which the obliging hogs were being ushered was not the pigs’ home at all but in fact the abode of a keen horticulturalist that contained a cherished garden with many prized and specimen plants. Fortunately the local was able to avert catastrophe and simultaneously educate the visitors about free-roaming commonable animals, release the pigs from potential captivity and save the precious garden from a potential porcine riot!

Pannage season

Forest fencing needs to be adequate to either keep animals in or, indeed, keep them out!

Verderers of the New Forest: guidance for homeowners.

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New Forest: autumn drifts in

The Agisters control the drifts and direct the commoners who assist with the round-ups.

The Agisters control the drifts and direct the commoners who assist with the round-ups.

A sure sign of autumn in the commoner’s calendar is the commencement of the pony drifts that take place each year. The drifts are round-ups that are conducted by the Agisters and commoners with the aim of collecting together as many of the free-roaming ponies as possible for checking, processing or dispersal. Over 40 drifts will take place in various locations, between August and November every year, but combined will cover all areas of the New Forest. For administration purposes, the Forest is divided roughly into four districts with an Agister responsible for each one.  The Agister from each district is able to rely on the assistance of his colleagues, including the head Agister, in the running of the drifts. The word ‘Agister’ is derived from the old Norman French and basically means to care for and feed animals, such as deer, cattle and horses, for a fee. Agisters patrol their districts daily, often on horseback, and have an intimate knowledge of the terrain. The daily contact they have with many of the animals and commoners in their territory becomes invaluable during the operation of the drift. The Agister will reconnoiter the area to be drifted, usually on the day before, to get an idea of which herds or bands of ponies are where. From this assessment the Agister knows how to conduct the drift and what directions he needs to give to those supporting him. Of course, even with all that prior preparation, come the morning it all changes.

Drifting on the New Forest has an ancient lineage and originated during the medieval period as a method of hunting deer. Herds of red and fallow deer would be driven or ‘drifted’ by riders into nets or towards waiting bowmen who would shoot them as soon as they came into range. Nowadays the drifts are used to round up the ponies into the pounds, which look like large corrals, where they can be given wormers or fitted with florescent collars and tail-marked by an Agister if they are staying on the Forest for the winter; or they can be loaded onto trailers and removed to the commoner’s holding if they are to be kept in for the winter or sold on. Many of the commoners, who own the free-roaming ponies, attend and assist with the drifts, some by riding with the Agisters and others on foot. Helping on a drift where ones ponies are depastured is always filled with feelings of excited anticipation. There is always a hope that one’s ponies will come in to be processed. However, many commoners work in full-time occupations that do not give them the flexibility to attend the weekday drifts, so the support of the rest of the commoning community is vital. Commoners will help on drifts outside of their areas or districts to assist their brethren. It is an import activity on the New Forest and one that depends on cooperation, coordination and communitywide support. Once the work is done and the ponies are in the pound, it is also an opportunity for meeting old friends, making new ones and absorbing the atmosphere of an important New Forest tradition.

The Agister cuts the pony's tail to show the owner has paid their marking fee.

The Agister cuts the pony’s tail to show the owner has paid their marking fee.

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. The dates of the #NewForest drifts are advertised to alert visitors and road-users to beware – NOT as an invitation to attend. For their own safety, members of the public are urged to avoid the area of the drift on the planned dates. #workingforest

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New Forest: haymaking in the sunshine

Meadow grass contains essential nutrients that, when dried in hay, will keep the ponies sustained over the winter.

Meadow grass contains essential nutrients that, when dried in hay, will keep the livestock sustained over the winter.

It’s been a busy week this week. I’ve been collecting bales of hay off the fields to be stored and used over the winter for my animals. Haymaking has been part of the farming calendar for over 6,000 years and is the traditional way of feeding ponies and cattle over the winter. For optimum results it is an activity that has to be done in dry, sunny weather, which has not been a problem of late. (Hay that is harvested when damp or wet will soon go mouldy and be unfit for feeding to animals.) Each year from about September to March, as the temperature drops, the grass loses its nutritional value. Therefore, the nourishment stored in the harvested summer hay is a vital component of the ponies’ and cattle’s winter diet.

In times past, when the deer were preserved for hunting, commoners would have to remove their animals from the New Forest during the period known as ‘winter heyning’. This meant that the deer would not have to compete with the commoners’ animals for food over the leaner months when the natural resources of the Forest are much depleted. According to the Orders and Rules of 1537 winter heyning occurred from Michaelmas to Hocktide but from the mid-1700s onwards it was from 22nd November until 4th May each year. Removing their animals from the Forest to their holdings and back-up land meant that the production of hay during the summer was essential for keeping their animals fed. The rules of levancy and couchancy limited the number of animals depastured in the growing season on the Forest to that which the holding could sustain in the winter.

Timing is an important element in haymaking, as the hay meadow needs to be mown just before the grass sets seed when it’s at its most nutritious. Then it will be turned, or ‘tedded’, several times over the course of a few days to bake in the sun. The hay needs to dry evenly but not left until it dries out. Then the hay is ‘rowed up’ and baled. Sounds easy doesn’t it? The hard work comes when you then have to remove the bales from the field because you end up lifting and stacking them multiple times. Once to stack them in the field, again get them on the trailer, and once more to store them in the barn. It’s a grimy, sweaty job, particularly when the weather is as hot as it has been of late. Still, I’m not complaining. I’m just thankful that there is machinery to do most of the hard work nowadays. In the old days haymaking was all done by hand and that would certainly have got me muttering a Saxon oath or two.

The hay bales are neatly laid out ready for collection.

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New Forest: some stallion stories

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

To celebrate the New Forest pony breeding season, which runs from Monday 14th May until Monday 18th June*, 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.

*Link to: New Forest Stallion Areas 2018

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

Sources:

[1] See: Eclipse – the Son of Marske http://newforestcommoner.co.uk/2015/05/25/new-forest-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: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency/

[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: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency/

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New Forest: pony mares go boy mad!

The next generation of foals born on the Forest follow an ancient lineage.

Each generation of foals born on the New Forest follow an ancient lineage.

Each year pedigree New Forest 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 several weeks each year. This year the stallions are released on Monday 14th May until Monday 18th June (and must be removed from the Forest by Monday 25th June 2018).

Madcap kiss-chase
Regular visitors to the New Forest will notice a change in mood among the herds of semi-feral ponies. For the four weeks or so that the stallions are free to roam the normally tranquil atmosphere of the Forest becomes electric. There are fifteen stallions being turned out this year to take up take up temporary residence in specific areas of the New Forest*. The mares in those areas will do just about everything they can to attract the attention of the boys. They become completely obsessed and seem to loose all sense of propriety and self-regard. The initial courtship of the Forest ponies seems to involve an awful lot of galloping about in a madcap game of kiss-chase. Large groups of mares can often be seen pursuing the stallion at high speed through the heathland, up and down the valleys and even across the roads. Consequently, it’s a time for all users of the New Forest to be aware and to take extra care when out and about, particularly on the Forest roads.

Rough wooing
When the mares and the stallions finally get together their courtship can seem very aggressive. This rough wooing is characterised by displays of kicking, pawing the ground, stamping and biting. The mare and stallion will sniff one another often accompanied by incredibly loud squeals or roars. People who have only ever heard horses neigh can be quite alarmed by the noises they make at this time, as they can often seem blood-curdling. The stallion may also exhibit ‘flehmen response’, which is also known as the lip-curl, or horse-laugh. It is an extraordinary facial gesture and does look as if the horse is sharing a joke but is actually a technique used by horses and ponies to amplify smells. The stallion uses his sense of smell to check which mares are in season and receptive to him before he makes his advance.

Alpha mares are the herd leaders
Even though they are free to roam across the whole of the New Forest the herds of semi-feral ponies tend to stay in their own territories. The herds are generally made up of small bands of family members and the size of the territory they share will depend upon the availability of natural resources, such as grazing, water and shelter. Most people imagine it is the stallion that leads the herd but it is in fact a dominant or alpha mare. She is the one who knows the area and its resources. The alpha mare generally leads the band from place to place and has priority access over available resources. These mares have been known to leave their territories in pursuit of a stallion when one has not been turned out in their area; or they fancy another one turned out elsewhere, such is their urge to reproduce. Indeed, many commoners have been surprised by the arrival of a foal from a mare that has been in a ‘stallion free’ area. If a mare does become impregnated by the stallion the gestation period for a New Forest pony is 11 months. So next year between April and May foals will be begin to be born on the Forest and the cycle will begin all over again.

The 'flehman response' is used by ponies to amplify smells.

The ‘flehman response’ is used by ponies to amplify smells.

*Link to: New Forest Stallion Areas 2018

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New Forest Stallion Areas 2018

New Forest Stallion Turnout Areas 2018

Each year pedigree New Forest 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 several weeks each year.

This year the stallions are released on Monday 14th May until Monday 18th June and must be removed from the Forest by Monday 25th June 2018.

Please be aware that during the stallion season the free-roaming ponies will be preoccupied and their behaviour may be unpredictable. Take extra care when out and about in the New Forest, particularly if you are a road user.

The stallions chosen for each area are listed below:

Cameron Luck of the Irish – Acres Down

Woodfidley Top Gun – Balmer Lawn

Mallards Wood Law & Order – Black Knowl

Lucky Lane Warrior – Busketts

Brookshill Brumby – East Boldre

Fidleywood Falconer – Hale Purlieu

Sturtmoor Tophat – Hilltop

Lovelyhill Hendrix – Linford

Rushmore Dalesman – Longdown

Knavesash Polaris – Mill Lawn/Burley Rocks

Skywalker – Ogdens

Sway Scrumpy Jack – Setley

Bullhill Major – Stoney Cross

Portmore Thunder Cloud – Wilverley

Bakeburn Benny – Wootton

Stallions will be turned out from Monday 14th May until Monday 18th June 2018.  (All stallions must be off by Monday 25th June 2018).

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

Approved pedigree stallions are released into the New Forest, in selected area, to breed with the Forest mares.

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New Forest: swallows – the heralds of summer.

Swallows, the heralds of summer, are welcome visitors to the New Forest.

Swallows, the heralds of summer, are welcome visitors to the New Forest.

I was very excited this week by the return of the migrant barn swallows that have, for many years, been resident in the stables on my holding. Their journey from Africa to the New Forest each spring is hazardous and exhausting. They can cover 200 miles in a day with speeds of approximately 20 mph. I generally anticipate their return and, from the end of March, make sure they are made welcome by opening the top door of ‘their’ stable and leaving its ventilation window open on a slant. The ponies are now away on their summer grazing and will be out for the rest of the year, so they won’t be needing any accommodation. The swallows are free to move in. I’ve already cleaned the stabled and placed fresh bedding on the floor – not they they use the bedding as such, but it is very absorbent and nesting swallows make an awful lot of mess! I leave the mud nests from last year alone and they are still firmly secure in the rafters. Hopefully, the birds that took up residence in them twelve months ago will all have survived to resume their occupancy. I love to hear the noises they make as they chatter to one another from their nests. Their cheep-chirruping is inflected with dolphinesque-clicks that are very distinctive and, like the song of the skylark, remind me of warm summer days.

Barn swallows – pest controller and weather predictors
The barn swallows make themselves extremely useful while they are here by eating large quantities of flying insects. They swoop over the paddocks hunting the flies that pester the ponies. Each bird can apparently eat up to 850 insects a day, which makes barn swallows one of my favourite pest controllers and why I try to encourage them to reside with us. Swallows are the heralds of summer. They are also excellent at forecasting the weather. There are a few old sayings connected to the ability of these amazing little birds to predict sunshine or rain: ‘When the swallow flies high, the weather will be dry’; and ‘When low flies the swallow, rain is to follow.’ The capability of the swallow to forecast sunshine or showers is no wives tale, but neither is it connected to any supernatural or animal sixth-sense. It is changing air pressure that causes the phenomenon. During sunny weather the warm air rises taking the flying insects higher into the skies followed, of course, by the swallows. In colder periods the reverse is true and the insects will stay closer to the ground, as will the swallows. However, there are some myths and folklore attached to these summer residents of the British countryside. In times past it was believed that barn swallows hibernated in the mud of ponds and lakes. In one experiment a swallow was immersed in water to see if it were true with predictable results. Nevertheless, it was considered back luck to kill a swallow or disturb its nest; whilst the sight of the first swallow of spring is said to be lucky. A swallow flying into your home brings good fortune with it, which is welcome news for me, as by the end of the summer this will have occurred in my kitchen on several occasions.

The New Forest ponies should not be stroked or petted, and on no account should they be fed by visitors.

Barn swallows are great pest controllers and eat the flies that pester the ponies.

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New Forest: the heritage of the 1960s

In times past there were no convenient paths and tracks for cyclists or walkers.

In times past there were no convenient paths and tracks for New Forest cyclists or walkers.

In 1966 the Financial Times newspaper published an article about a map of the New Forest that mapping agency – Ordnance Survey – was planning to produce. This map would be different from any previous style of tourist map because it was going to use colour to depict the vegetation and types of country. According to the article, the map showed ‘public rights of way, camping sites, car parks, places for angling, boating, riding and golfing, view points and ancient monuments’.[1] It is interesting to note that cycling, which is a popular activity in the New Forest today, is not mentioned at all. I can only conclude that the Forest tracks at this time, which were generally unmade and very rough, would have been extremely uncomfortable to ride on using the rudimentary road bicycles of the day. The Ordnance Survey map could be purchased for between six shillings to ten shillings, depending upon whether you wanted it in flat paper, folded paper or mounted cloth. I couldn’t possibly hazard a guess as to how many tourist maps of the New Forest have been created since then.

Cars, caravans, and campers
Of course in the 1960s tourists were able to camp all over the Forest, wherever they could access in their vehicles. All campers had to do was to purchase a license from the Forestry Commission. Caravans, tents and cars were common sights across the landscape of the New Forest during this time. According to Forestry Commission figures for the period, the number of camper nights, i.e. one camper for one night, increased from 83,000 in 1956 to 485,000 in 1969. At the end of the tourist season in 1969 an estimated 20,000 cars per day were off-roading on the Forest at peak times. This was at a time when the Forest attracted 3.5 million day visitors per year.[2] Can you imagine what the Forest would look like if the same permit conditions existed for the more than 13.5 million day visitors per annum who visit the Forest today?[3] Fortunately for the New Forest things changed dramatically in the mid-1970s with the introduction of initiatives, such as car-free zones, dedicated campsites and official car parks. Nearly fifty years later, we can appreciate the scenic beauty of the Forest and its abundant plant and animal life thanks to the strenuous parliamentary campaigning of some far-sighted individuals and local organisations. Tourism is an important part of the New Forest economy that, like the impact of its residents, is now managed to ensure that people do not harm the very landscape, which they profess to enjoy. A landscape appreciated becomes a landscape loved and a landscape preserved.

The colours that nature paints across the New Forest landscape are just beautiful. The colours that nature paints across the New Forest landscape are just beautiful.

The New Forest heather in bloom can turn the landscape purple, for as far as the eye can see.

[1] Tourist Map of the New Forest – The Financial Times (London, England), Tuesday, March 29, 1966.

[2] Forestry Commission figures quoted in Colin Tubbs, New Forest: History, Conservation, Ecology, (Lyndhurst, 2001), pp. 98-99.

[3] New Forest District Council website – Tourism and Travel, updated September 2015, [accessed 7 August 2016]: http://www.newforest.gov.uk/article/5197/Tourism-and-Travel

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