New Forest: the sad story of the strange fish

The New Forest coastline is a valuable resource of important habitats and marine species.

While the New Forest is renown for its exquisite landscape of heathland, valley mires and Ancient and Ornamental woodlands, its 42km (26 miles) of coastal habitats are often overlooked. The New Forest coastline is a mixture of wildlife-rich shingle, saltmarsh, lagoons and mudflats, and has a strong maritime heritage.[1] With around 90% protected by some form of nature conservation designation, the New Forest coast is host to many important habitats and species.[2] Indeed, many of the marine species found in the coastal waters of the New Forest are among some of the most fascinating and seemingly exotic. I recently came across a disturbing news item from 200 years ago that made me wonder, if the incident reported had happened today what would have been the outcome?

Sighting of a ‘strange fish’
In 1798 a London magazine carried the story that a ‘fish’ of enormous size had been seen swimming in Southampton Water. Apparently, many fruitless attempts had been made to catch the creature; but when it swam into the River Itchen a soldier, Richard Evamy of the New Forest Rifle Light Dragoons, using his carbine, fired at it from a boat. The ball from the firearm, it was reported, went through eighteen inches of solid flesh in the fish’s side, causing it to dive into the water and disappear. The next day, however, the creature was discovered upon the mud, near the village of Marchwood, stranded by the outgoing tide. It was supposed that because of the great quantity of blood lost from the gunshot wound it was too exhausted to return to the water and escape its pursuers. In this vulnerable and weakened state three men in a boat approached and violently attacked it. They forced an iron crow bar down the creature’s throat, which caused it to lash its tail ‘to an astonishing height’ and the men narrowly escaped being crushed by the force of its tortured protestations. However, after repeated efforts with the iron bar the men eventually managed to kill it. When its struggles were ended they tied the animal’s body to the stern of their boat and hauled it away across the water to the village of Itchen. There it was identified as a whale ‘of the beaked or bottled-head species’, measuring some twenty-five feet (7.62 metres) in length and eighteen feet (5.49 metres) in girth. The magazine reported,

There is no division of head from the body, which is all in one; the eyes are remarkably small, and it has a snout like the beak of a bird; likewise two fins near the head, and two others towards the tail; the skin is very smooth, and of a beautiful lead colour, and the weight is supposed to be near six tons.

The men who had caught it, and were described as fishermen, exhibited the ‘uncommon natural curiosity’ to a large number of people who flocked in from the surrounding towns and villages, all wanting to see the strange fish. The men then sold the whale for a considerable sum to be made into oil which, it was believed, would have been plentiful, as the body was said to be fourteen inches (35.56 cm) thick with fat in many parts. When finally the whale’s carcass was taken away there were difficulties in moving it. Due to its enormous size, it was reported that the combined strength of eight horses and forty men could only drag it a distance of some forty yards. What an ignominious end for such a beautiful creature! I’m not entirely sure if the description of the creature was accurate because if the ‘strange fish’ was a bottlenose dolphin (Turnips truncatus) why didn’t the description mention the dorsal fin? (If anyone has any suggestions please let me know.) However, even today, visits from some cetacean species (whales, dolphins and porpoises) are not uncommon in the waters surrounding the Isle of Wight and stretches of the southern coast. Indeed, according to the Sea Watch Foundation the south of England is visited by species, such as harbour porpoises and bottlenose dolphins, which are associated with shallow continental seas as found within the English Channel. Hopefully though, any modern-day cetaceans meeting with humankind would receive a much kinder welcome.

Dolphins, porpoises and whales are known to visit the coastal waters of the New Forest.


[1] New Forest National Park Authority website, Beautiful Landscapes – Coastline:

[2] New Forest District Council website, New Forest Coastline:

News – True Briton (1793) (London, England), Thursday, September 20, 1798; Issue 1792. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.

For more information:

About cetaceans in southern Britain visit: The Sea Watch Foundation.

For information about Marine Sightings visit: Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust

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New Forest: natural connections

The practice of commoning, which has existed uninterrupted for over a thousand years, is still the dominant influence over the Forest’s ecology, economy and community.

In the last few weeks it has been my absolute pleasure and privilege to be invited into the homes of several long-established commoning families and spend time in their company. Congregating in the kitchen seems to be the standard practice, where a never-ending supply of tea or coffee is served, often amongst a noisy confusion of adults, children and animals. A surreptitious glance around the room usually reveals a number of rosettes and trophies from local, county, or even national livestock or horse shows; and photos of children with beaming smiles, sat on their New Forest ponies – images often spanning several generations – are found on every surface. The evidence of a life lived close to livestock is usually present, provided in the form of stacked tubs of calf milk-formula or large sacks of farm animal feed in the porch; or coat racks that also contain pony bridles and head-collars, as well as the standard waterproof coats and hats. The life of a commoner is never dull and visitors can often find themselves roped in to help with chores, such as herding cattle into new pasture or holding ponies for the farrier, to earn their cuppa. When at last everyone is comfortably seated, with a mug in one hand and, perhaps, a biscuit or slice of cake in the other, everyone relaxes and the conversations become a mix of topical Forest issues, discussions about stock management, and general gossip.

Inter-generational exchanges
I find myself listening intently to the inter-generational exchanges of the commoners and realise that just being in such an atmosphere provides education by osmosis, where knowledge and information about commoning is imparted and assimilated through a gradual and unconscious process. Conversations about people who have lived in the New Forest are just as likely to include many of the animal residents too. Talks about who married who, how many children they had, and where they all lived, are mingled just as easily with discussions about pony pedigrees and stallion bloodlines. The management and conservation of the Forest is also a topic of conversation, as many of the commoners, particularly in former times, will have worked in agriculture or forestry and have an affinity with the landscape – much of which is passed down to the next generation. It never ceases to amaze me just how knowledgeable the young commoners can be about the ecology of the Forest. These are children who can identify and confidently explain about many of the trees, plants, insects and animals that live in their neighbourhoods. Commoning then, it seems to me, does so much more than preserve the ancient landscape through the use of traditional pastoral methods, such as depasturing livestock; it also keeps alive the practices of a close-knit community, maintains inter-generational ties, and monitors neighbourhoods that are home to non-human residents too. In a world filled with digital devices that enslave people to the Internet, it is comforting to know that such natural connections have not been lost.

The free-roaming New Forest ponies are an important part of the commoning community.

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New Forest: £5000 reward for finding ‘Hit & Run’ drivers

The Verderers Court sessions are open to the public each month – except August and December.

The Open Court sessions at the Verderers’ Court are a great way to learn about the Forest’s management and see one of its ancient institutions in action. Each month (except August and December) the public are welcome to attend and observe for themselves the administrative processes that protect the New Forest’s unique agricultural commoning practices; conserve its traditional landscape, wildlife and aesthetic character; and, safeguard a viable future for commoning. Members of the public can even make ‘presentments’ (formal statements of a matter to be dealt with pertaining to the New Forest), which the Court will later discuss and decide upon. One of the issues most regularly presented at Court are concerns about the numbers of commoning livestock killed or injured on the Forest roads. The free-roaming ponies, cattle, pigs and donkeys that belong to the commoners are a vital part of what makes the New Forest so special and the Verderers, along with many other organisations, are actively involved in supporting initiatives that attempt to reduce animal accidents in the New Forest. Therefore, the announcement at this month’s Court that the reward has been increased for information leading to the successful conviction of the driver (or drivers) found guilty of causing the death of or injury to Forest livestock as a result of a hit and run incident, was met with widespread approval. A cash injection, which was backdated to 1st January 2017, from the international charity Horse Welfare Trust, the Commoners’ Defence Association, the New Forest Pony Breeding and Cattle Society and the Verderers of the New Forest, has significantly enhanced the previous reward of £1000 to £5000.

Hits and run incidents
Hit and run incidents involving Forest stock are among the most heinous that occur on the Forest roads. Callous drivers who have been involved in a collision with the free-roaming stock have then driven off and not reported the incident, leaving the animal in agony and distress either with injuries requiring immediate veterinary attention or fatal injuries that would necessitate the animal to be put to sleep. Some of these animals run away in fear and panic, even on broken limbs, which makes the drivers falsely believe that the animal is unhurt and as a result the animal can suffer unnecessarily. It’s difficult to imagine how a person could be so cruel. On Wednesday 9th May, at about 7.30pm, for example, one of the Agisters was called to attend to an injured steer on the Linwood Road. On the way to the scene of the accident, the Agister found a pony with a broken leg. A witness had seen a white Audi hit the steer on the bridge near Appleslade car park. The pony was nearby, outside the Red Shoot Public House. It is quite possible that the same vehicle had hit both animals. The driver (or drivers) did not report either incident, and it was the witness who had called the Agister. Unfortunately the pony had to be put down.

Report accidents to the authorities
The Verderers state that, for whatever reason, if a collision with a Forest animal occurs, drivers are required to report it to the authorities as soon as practicably possible, and certainly within 24 hours. Drivers must not leave the scene of an accident (unless it is to call for help), particularly if the animal is still on the highway as it may cause a further accident. Anyone with information regarding a hit and run incident on the New Forest, involving a commonable animal, is asked to ring the Verderers’ Office on 023 8028 2052, or Hampshire Police on 101. The Official Verderer also announced to the Court that drivers on the New Forest roads can also expect to see more activity from the mobile traffic cameras, information that was received with hearty approval by all those in attendance.

Every free-roaming pony on the New Forest is owned by a local person with Common Rights.

Know who to call:


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New Forest: observing the month of deer defence

Fence month (or defence month) was the time of year during which people and their animals were not allowed on the New Forest, so as not to disturb the deer when they gave birth.

The commoning calendar holds many significant dates that reflect the seasons, and over time activities have developed that match the time of year. The most important of these are connected to the management of the commonable animals and include the stallion season (four weeks between May and June), and the pony drifts, or round-ups, held from August to November; whereas other dates signify the business end of commoning, such as the Beaulieu Road Sales, which are held at various times of the year and is where commoners can buy and sell ponies from a purpose-built sales yard. Attempts have been made, however, to impose certain dates on the commoners, such as ‘defence month’, better known as ‘fence month’. This date was fixed by Henry III’s Charter of the Forest in 1217, and ran from 15 days before Midsummer (Feast of John Baptist’s Nativity), to 15 days after, or more simply put – from 20th June to 20th July. During fence month no commonable beasts were allowed in the Forest, ‘no men or stray dogs’ were to wander in the Forest’ or persons permitted off the highways. Even people with fuel rights were forbidden to collect dead wood and fallen branches during this period. The reasons for such prohibitions were because at this time the fallow deer (Dama dama) give birth to their fawns. Deer were preserved for royal and aristocratic hunting, and Forest officers were required to defend them from disturbance at this particularly vulnerable time, by keeping watch night and day in their own bailiwicks. The Lord of the Manor of Fordingbridge, for example, was obliged to find ‘watch and ward’ upon the bridge that crosses the Avon, on account of its being one of the principle entrances into the Forest to ensure that the conditions of (de)fence month were observed.

New Forest Act 1877
Nevertheless, the commoners were able to avoid the exclusions of fence month and continue grazing their animals throughout this period on payment of a small quit rent, known as ‘month money’. Indeed, by 1670 it was stated before the Justice in Eyre, held at Lyndhurst, that ‘from time out of mind the commoners have had common of pasture for their cattle throughout fence month’. When the Crown wanted to profit from the growth of timber and the privatisation of the New Forest in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it saw fence month as a method of reducing the value of commoning. As a conciliatory gesture the commoners offered reintroduce quit rents for grazing throughout fence month, but the Crown refused to be mollified and used the offer as proof of the Crown’s superior claim in the matter. This caused much rancour and bitterness among the commoners. It wasn’t until the New Forest Act 1877 that the matter was finally resolved. The Act reconstituted Court of Verderers, which was given judiciary and executive powers over the New Forest, including responsibility for the payment of quit rent in respect of fence month. This landmark piece of legislation has ensured that the law protects the commoning way of life and that the ancient traditions and annual observances, so important to the cultural heritage of the New Forest, can continue into the future.

The practice of commoning, which has existed uninterrupted for over a thousand years, is still the dominant influence over the Forest’s ecology, economy and community.

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New Forest: medieval dog maiming

The New Forest was established in 1079 by William the Conqueror as a royal hunting venue.

I was interested to learn recently that the New Forest has more visitors per square kilometre than any other national park (7.5 visits/km2), and that dog walking was the most common reason for visiting the New Forest throughout the year.[1]  This would have been inconceivable when the New Forest was first created in 1079, because the Forest was preserved solely for the King’s hunting pleasure. Indeed, William the Conqueror established harsh laws, including blinding, castration and death, to anyone found guilty of disturbing the game animals (venison) and damaging the vegetation (vert) on which they depended for food and shelter. The Forest Laws he created to preserve his interests prohibited the setting of traps or snares; forbade anyone to carry weapons, especially bows and arrows; and, introduced a procedure to prevent dogs from chasing deer and other game animals by mutilating their front paws. This barbaric practice, known as ‘lawing’ or ‘expediting’, ensured that dogs kept by the people living in and around the Forest were lamed enough to prevent them from chasing and bringing down the venison, but not disable them so much that they were prevented from protecting their master’s home or person.

Rufus Stirrup
The instrument known as ‘Rufus Stirrup’ that hangs in the Verderer’s Court was used specifically to measure dogs.* If the dog was able to fit through the middle of the stirrup, which most small terriers would probably be able to do, they were not maimed, if, however, they were too big to pass through they were permanently lamed. The process of ‘lawing’, or ‘expediting’, is described by one chronicler as follows: ‘the mastiff being brought to set one of his forefeet upon a piece of wood eight inches thick and a foot square, then [a man] with a mallet, setting a chisel two inches broad upon three claws of his forefoot, at one blow doth smite them clean off’.[2] As well as having the middle three toes removed some dogs even had the heel-pad of each front foot removed too. However, the Charta de Foresta of 1217 (an extension of Magna Carta), known as the Commoners Charter, granted two major concessions to the commoners living under the oppressive Forest Laws. Firstly, it codified the forest laws and lessened their severity, substituting the loss of eyes and testicles – for people offending against the venison and vert – with imprisonment for up to a year and a day, with release at any time if bail could be made.[3] Secondly, the Charter reduced the custom of dogs being lawed to places where the practice had existed at the time of the coronation of Henry II. Nevertheless, exceptions could be made. In December 1279, for example, Isabel de Fortibus, Countess of Albemarle, made a plea that the dogs of herself and ‘her men of Old and New Lymington should be quit of the expeditation of their dogs.’[4] The court granted to her that up to thirty-two dogs were exempt from the mutilation of their forepaws.Lucky dogs!  In time the maiming of dogs could be avoided on payment of a fee, and this method seems to have become the standard practice. Over the years the enforcement of dog maiming was relaxed and eventually the barbaric practice was abandoned altogether. I have no doubt that our modern day canine visitors to the New Forest are vastly relieved with this development.

Rufus Stirrup was used to measure dogs – small dogs were left unharmed, bigger dogs were lamed.

*Rufus Stirrup is thought to be a Tudor replica and not the original measuring instrument.

For information about responsible dog walking download the New Forest dog walking leaflet.


[1] New Forest National Park website, ‘Facts and Figures – New Forest National Park Authority – 2007’:…/tourism_and_recreation_-_facts_and_figures [accessed 11th June 2017] NB: These figures are over 10 years old, and need updating, as they probably woefully underestimate today’s visitor numbers.

[2] John Manwood, Manwood’s Treatise of the Forest Laws (London, 1598), p.96.

[3] Emma Griffin, Blood Sport: Hunting in Britain Since 1066 (Yale University Press, 2007), p. 36.

[4] D. J. Stagg, New Forest Documents: A.D1244 – A.D.1334, (Trowbridge, 1979), 285, p.120.

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New Forest: impressive stallion pedigree

During the stallion season the dynamics of the herds change and the ponies get excited.

I recently had a chance to observe the stallion running in the area where my mares shade. He was chasing off a particularly annoying gelding and his harem of approximately 40 mares, some with foals at foot, was looking on excitedly. He was a handsome bay pony, probably standing about 14.2 HH, with a glossy coat that shone over a taut muscular physique. He was obviously an experienced stallion, because he was able to keep himself between the herd and the errant gelding, as the pair galloped furiously around the heathland. No matter how hard the gelding tried to get back to the herd of mares this stallion anticipated his opponent and was able to block him. The stallion’s low head carriage and threatening demeanour was a clear sign to all who witnessed the altercation that he meant business. I did not stay to see the outcome, but I have no doubt that the bay stallion came out on top. I was very impressed by the look and manner of this New Forest pony stallion and even more delighted when, a day or two later, a commoning friend informed me that one of my mares was seen in his company. My friend’s description left me in no doubt that my mare was interested in the stallion’s attention, as she was actively flirting with him. However, they only seemed to have stayed together in the same area for a short while, because the stallion moved on to a new territory and left my mare behind. Did they or didn’t they? Fingers crossed. I hope so.

Impressive pedigree
I was interested to discover more about the potential sire of a future foal born to my mare and looked up his pedigree. I was right about him being an experienced stallion because he was foaled in 2001, making him 16 years of age, (48 years old in human years). He has run on the Forest 11 times during the Stallion Season since 2003, and is obviously an established and popular sire. In fact, he has an impressive pedigree with bloodlines that stretch back to the 1690s, which was when William III (& II) and Mary II were on the British throne. Unless you know something about pony breeding it probably won’t mean anything to you when I tell you that this particular stallion has the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian and the Byerley Turk in his breeding. These are the three most influential stallions in English sporting history. He even has Eclipse, one of the most famous thoroughbred racehorses of all time, on both sides of his pedigree. Eclipse (foaled: 1 April 1764 – died: 26 February 1789) was an undefeated champion who won 18 races, including 11 King’s Plates. I was certainly captivated when I first saw the bay stallion running free on the Forest but now, having learned about his impressive lineage, I am hoping that his liaison with my mare will have been fruitful. I should have an idea by December whether or not my mare is in foal, as by then her belly will be showing tell-tale signs. What an amazing Christmas present that would be!

Eclipse is one of the most famous racehorses in history – an undefeated champion of the turf.

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New Forest: C19th waste land or allotments

In 1870 a meeting was held to discuss turning the New Forest into allotments for the working poor.

On this day (28th May) in 1870, it was reported in the Hampshire Advertiser that Southampton residents and those in the surrounding neighbourhood, had held a meeting in the Guildhall to discuss enclosing the New Forest for agricultural purposes. [In the following year the government placed a Bill before Parliament ‘to disafforest the New Forest’, meetings such as these were presumably held to test the waters for the government’s plan.] One of those attending the meeting, a Mr. George, who was described as a working man, declared that, the first and most important thing for the sustenance of the poor was that all lands fit for cultivation should be used to supply the people’s wants. In his opinion there were many thousands of acres of land lying waste that ought to be made available. Bringing such lands into cultivation, he believed, would remedy pauperism. His idea was that the New Forest should be divided into small allotments for those men willing to work for their daily bread. Under this proposal more produce would be brought into the market and ‘the capitalist would lose his power of controlling the prices in the markets’. Mr. George proposed that large tracts of fertile land in the New Forest be appropriated for cultivation, but not allowed to pass into private hands. He suggested that the land should be allotted on sufficiently long terms to ‘give a durable interest in the soil’, and the least fertile parts be still left open in a state of wild natural beauty.

Dairy imports
Other attendees at the meeting thought this a good scheme. Captain Mayse, R. N., agreed with the suggestions, as he believed that with the waste land under cultivation using ‘an enlightened land system’, the country would be able to ‘sustain treble its present population’. He also spoke of the ‘enormous amount of dairy produce imported into this country’, which he believed would not be necessary if small farming systems could be pursued, and remarked on the ‘evils’ of allowing large tracts of land to accumulate in the hands of private persons. His vision was one of small cultivators working together in co-operatives or as independent smallholders. Others attending the meeting were enthusiastic for this idea, with one recommending the cultivation of beetroot as a profitable crop. Another gentleman present, a Mr. Ashby, tried to curb the eager imaginings of his colleagues by reminding them that the poor people, who would benefit from this scheme and be given the allotments, would need a certain amount of capital to start with. This raised the issue of who would supply the funds required to start them off.

Rights of Commonage
Mr. Joseph Hill, on the other hand, had a different view entirely. He pointed out the great benefit to the people of Southampton and neighbouring towns, of the ‘very many’ tourists who came to visit the New Forest. He remind those at the meeting that the New Forest was subject to certain rights of commonage, pasturage, pannage and fuel, which would first have to be disposed of, and he could not see how this could be achieved without paying compensation. There was, he pointed out, other land nearer to Southampton, which had already been taken out of the Forest for cultivation and would be better for agriculture than the waste lands under consideration. His remedy to assist the working man was to abolish some of the inheritance laws, such as primogeniture and entail, which naturally favoured the rich landowners. Mr. Hill’s comments were roundly criticised by Mr. T. Falvey, who was in favour of the scheme for allotments on the New Forest, as he believed that this would be ‘a practicable scheme for the partial depopulation of their over-crowded towns’. The meeting was eventually adjourned and, although the majority of those in attendance favoured enclosing the New Forest and bringing it into agriculture, the scheme did not secure popular support. Attempts to enclose the Forest at this time were in fact met with nationwide condemnation and protest. Indeed, the outcry was so intense, from all parts of the country, that the New Forest was preserved by an Act of Parliament, which was passed on 23rd July 1877. The New Forest Act 1877 gave legal protection to the New Forest, reconstituted the Verderers Court to act as its guardian, and ensured that the rights of the commoners were preserved.

The practice of commoning, which has existed uninterrupted for over a thousand years, is still the dominant influence over the Forest’s ecology, economy and community.


PROPOSED ENCLOSURE OF THE NEW FOREST . The Hampshire Advertiser (Southampton, England), Saturday, May 28, 1870.

New Forest Act 1877:

See also:

Peter Roberts, Saving the New Forest (Lyndhurst, 2016). This book ‘explains how a small group of people in the mid-nineteenth century became seriously worried at the steady increases year on year in the enclosure of land in the Forest for timber production, and in 1867 decided in very British fashion to set up an association to rescue it. In 1871 the government placed a Bill before Parliament ‘to disafforest the New Forest’, which would have left just 100 of the 60,000 acres for the Commoners to exercise their rights and for the public to enjoy’.

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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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