My first step to becoming a practicing New Forest Commoner has been taken. I have an appointment at the Office of the Verderers’ Court! I must take a completed application and other documentation to the Verderer’s Office and meet with the Clerk, who will process my claim to common rights.
The Verderers are officials, appointed or elected, who have judicial and administrative powers within the Forest. There are ten Verderers – five are elected and five are appointed. One is appointed by the Minister of Agriculture, one by the Forestry Commissioners, one by the National Park Authority and one by Natural England. The official Verderer, who presides over all, is the Sovereign’s representative. The five elected Verderers must all be commoners. The Verderers derive their offices, powers and responsibilities from an Act of Parliament passed in 1877. Subsequent Acts have increased the number of Verderers and given them additional powers to make and amend byelaws. However, the court dates back to medieval times and is one of the oldest legal institutions in the country.
The Verderers’ Court meets in public ten times a year and people may address the Court on matters that relate to the management of the New Forest. The Verderers will then consider all ‘presentments’ and make a final judgement once all issues have been discussed in private session. Working in conjunction with the Forestry Commission and Natural England, the Verderers regulate commoning and certain forms of development on the New Forest. Many of the decisions about the management of the New Forest must firstly be approved by the Verderers.
The extent of my Rights of Common must first be checked using the Atlas of Common Rights, located at the Verderers’ Office, and depending upon the outcome of the search my application to become a practising commoner will be approved. I am looking forward to meeting the Verderers’ Clerk and progressing my claim of common rights.