For me, being a New Forest commoner is an enormous privilege that has drawn me into a community of people who share a passion for its landscape, flora, fauna and cultural heritage. A commoner is a person who occupies land or property that has a right (or rights) of common attached to it. These rights are common of pasture (grazing), mast (pannage), estovers (fuel-rights), marl (clay) and turbary (peat). The most practiced common right is common of pasture, which allows commoners to turn out ponies, cattle, donkeys and mules onto the unenclosed parts of the Forest to graze. There are a few properties, which were once part of a monastery that also have the right to turn out sheep on the Forest, but this is rarely exercised. Mast is the right to turn out pigs in the autumn, known as pannage season, to feed upon the fallen acorns. This not only provides food for the pigs but, because acorns can be toxic to ponies and deer when eaten in large quantities, also helps other animals too. Estovers is the free supply of a specified amount of wood to certain Forest properties, which is strictly controlled by the Forestry Commission. Common of marl is the right to dig clay as a fertiliser for improving agricultural land and is no longer practised in the Forest. Likewise, common of turbary, which is the right to cut peat for fuel is no longer exercised.
The common rights of the New Forest are attached to property (such as a house or piece of land) and not to a person. These rights have existed since time immemorial, undoubtedly predating the creation of the New Forest by King William I (William the Conqueror) in circa. 1079. Indeed, some commoning families have been exercising their rights for many generations and, in some cases, can even trace their ancestry back to the earliest written records of the New Forest. Commoning on the New Forest is a pragmatic enterprise as well as a traditional one. People with rights of pasture graze their animals communally and help each other to care and look out for them (although the welfare of each animal is the responsibility of the owner). The Agisters, who are appointed by the Verderers of the New Forest*, deal with the management issues of stock on the Forest and work daily with the commoners to ensure high standards of animal welfare. The commoning calendar includes activities, such as the annual drifts or pony round-ups, shows and sales, which give this tight-knit community plenty of opportunity to get together and share the pleasures and privileges of commoning.
*The Verderers of the New Forest work through the Court of Verderers and have the same status as magistrates. For more information visit: http://www.verderers.org.uk
New Forest Commoners Defence Association – If you would like to contact the New Forest Commoners Defence Association please redirect your enquiry to: https://www.realnewforest.org