New Forest: animals ‘bottom flossing’

The New Forest road signs and finger posts lead a double life that most visitors are unaware of

I was talking to some ‘griddler’ friends of mine recently about the joys of living inside the New Forest perambulation. (A griddler is a local term for a non-commoning person who lives inside the cattle-grid zone of the New Forest.) These friends love being part of a village community in which, of course, they include the commoner’s free roaming animals. Their cottage is picture-postcard perfect, with a thatched roof, and fragrant honey-suckle and pink roses over the door. It’s always a pleasure to visit, particularly as I am usually greeted with a large mug of coffee and a fully loaded biscuit barrel. Their home overlooks a small green that is separated from the property by a busy village road. A short distance away is a crossroads where visitors must choose carefully the direction they wish to go in order to either access the Open Forest, enter a dead-end track leading to other properties, travel further to the village centre, or return back the way they had come. To aid the visitors in their choice is a signpost, located on the green. This simple structure, a black and white name board suspended between two round wooden posts, stands alone informing passers by of their location.

Leading a double life
Apparently this road sign leads a double life. According to my friends, not only do cyclists and walkers perch or lean upon it while consulting their maps and phone apps, but the ponies, donkeys, and cattle use it as a scratching post. In fact, the height of the road sign is so accommodating that some of the taller ponies are even able to straddle it in order to relieve the itching to their undersides that teeth or hooves are unable to reach. The majority of the ponies and donkeys, however, seem to like to rub their rear ends up and down the posts, as if giving themselves a massage as well as scratching. My friends refer to this as ‘bottom flossing’, because to all intents and purposes that’s exactly what it looks like the animals are doing. New Forest ponies are very clever animals and they are also opportunists. I have seen for myself a pony using the horns of a cow, which was lying down and chewing her cud, to scratch itself. Many of the cables on the Open Forest, which support telephone poles or other infrastructure features, are often used for the same purpose (see photo below). It’s not unusual to see these large metal cables with a tidemark line of hair-encrusted dirt up to several feet, or a metre or so, from the ground. My friends, however, are often concerned about the visitors who rest on the signpost outside their cottage. They have no doubt that if these people knew how (and particularly where) the animals used the sign they would probably avoid it altogether or at the very least wash their hands after touching it.

When you’ve got an itch – you’ve just got to scratch

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New Forest: ponies and pigs can be friends

The ponies coming in on the annual drifts, or round-ups, are looking fit, healthy and well fed.

Autumn is definitely here. Pannage season is upon us and the annual pony drifts are currently underway*. During the drifts the semi-feral ponies and foals are rounded up for inspection, released back onto the Forest or taken away to be sold, trained, or kept on their commoning owners’ holdings for the winter. Watching the ponies coming in and seeing them up close in the pound gives their owners, the Agisters, and any attending animal welfare inspectors, a chance to assess their health and condition. The ponies are looking well this year. There has been no shortage of grazing for them and their free-roaming existence means that they can find all the other resources they need to thrive within their territories. I know I am biased, but I cannot imagine why anyone would want any other breed of pony to use for riding or driving. Not only is the New Forest pony a hardy animal, but it is so inured to the landscape that all the hazards and obstacles that test other ponies and horses visiting the area are taken in its stride.

Peril of pigs
At the moment, with pannage season, comes the peril of pigs. It is a widespread belief among the equine community that ponies (and horses) are terrified of pigs – and will ‘flip out’ at the sight or smell of them. No one seems to know why this should be, but I have heard explanations that range from domestic pigs resembling wild boar or bears, to the smell of pigs being close to that of carnivores (lions), or just simply being downright unpleasant to the sensitive nostrils of the horse. There have been no scientific studies on this subject, that I know of, to provide any insight. However, horses being prey animals are, of course, naturally alert to danger and have highly developed senses to help them detect potential threats. For whatever reason the porcine/equine encounter seems to be a thing most dreaded by horse riders. Nevertheless, many of the free-roaming Forest ponies are accustomed to their piggy neighbours and do not seem to find their presence alarming at all. I think possibly it’s the exposure to these odd looking, funny sounding, strange smelling creatures that makes the difference between fear and familiarity. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to confirm this observation. Owners who stable their horses or ponies on or near pig-farms seem to have fewer problems riding out, as their mounts seem to be less fearful when meeting pigs. Even my own ponies, when staying on the holding, encounter my neighbour’s free-range pigs regularly and are more curious about them, than frightened. A lot depends on the attitudes of the pigs, of course, as with all well-handled animals, friendly pigs are more pleasant to encounter than unsociable swine; but rest-assured if you’re visiting the New Forest you’re not likely to meet the latter; as only peaceable commonable animals are permitted to roam the New Forest.

Contrary to popular opinion, pigs and ponies can be friends.

*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.

For their own safety, members of the public are urged to avoid the area of the drift on the planned dates.

The dates of the #NewForest drifts are advertised to alert visitors and road-users to beware, NOT as an invitation to attend. #workingforest

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New Forest: pannage, a piggy priority

Wild boar once roamed freely in the New Forest but by the C17th were extinct.

One of the most significant periods in the New Forest calendar starts in mid-to-late September, when the trees begin to cast their fruit, in the form of acorns, beech-mast and chestnuts. Known as ‘pannage’ it is a time when pigs are turned out to roam freely and forage on the forest floor, to gorge themselves on the autumnal bonanza. Previously the dates for pannage were fixed to occur at the same time each year, but now they are decided by the Verderers of the New Forest and the Forestry Commission and, under certain conditions, can be extended past the usual 60-day period. (This year pannage starts on 11th September and ends on 12th November, inclusive.) Pannage is a custom that was established in the mists of time when forests were places that gave priority to animals, rather than trees. Indeed, Anglo-Saxon law decreed that:

Gif mon ponne aceorfe an treow, paet mage XXX swina undergestandan wyro undierne, geselle LX scill.[1]
(If, however, anyone cuts down a tree that can shelter 30 swine, and it becomes known, he shall pay 60 shillings.)

Even after the New Forest was created in 1079, by William the Conqueror, the economic and political importance of pigs dominated. In the Domesday Book, for example, which was presented to William I at Old Sarum (Salisbury) in 1086, forests were measured by the number of pigs they could support rather than counted by the acreage of trees. Under Norman forest law the owners of swine paid pannage dues for ‘agisting’ or pasturing their pigs in the forests, while herbage dues covered the pasturing of horses and cattle, a practice that still continues on today’s New Forest.[2] Pigs were the main kind of domestic stock in the Forest and the autumn, in particular, provided an opportunity to fatten them up on fallen acorns and beech-mast, finishing them off before they were slaughtered for the winter. Incidentally, the wild boar, which were hunted to extinction in the seventeenth century, were said to have mated with domestic New Forest sows, giving the off-spring a distinguished, boar-like appearance.

Training pigs
Domestic pig-keeping was an integral part of the homestead, and properties adjacent to the Forest relied on the benefits derived from the pannage season. An account, from 1838, describes how pigs were trained to the sound of a horn during feeding times, so that they would associate the sound with pleasant associations. When the swineherd blew on his horn the pigs would assemble, making them easier to manage on the Open Forest. It was remarked that, ‘If the swineherd is a man of talent in his way, the hogs are turned out in excellent condition, and very little more expense fits them for the market’.[3] Pigs were an important part of the rural economy and, according to a nineteenth century travel writer, Hampshire was a county renown for three things – bacon, the New Forest pony, and honey.[4] Pannage bacon remains very popular and because it is a seasonal delicacy renown for its rich, concentrated flavour, it is much in demand. Local butchers are usually the best source for those wanting to give it a try. The number of pigs running loose around the Forest will, inevitably, increase during pannage season. This means that people using the New Forest roads need to take extra care to avoid the piggy pedestrians – particularly now, as the nights are drawing in. Visitors to the Forest, also, should be aware of the increased presence of pigs and that no matter how appealing they look, under no circumstances should they be petted, fed by hand, or given food – even as a treat.

Domestic pig-keeping was an integral part of the homestead, and pannage season remains a significant period in the New Forest calendar.


[1] F. L. Attenborough (ed.), The Laws of the Earliest Kings (Cambridge, 1922), Ine, c.44, p. 50.

[2] Eva Ritter, Dainis Dauksta (eds.), New Perspectives on People and Forests (London, 2011), 4.3.1, p. 52.

[3] Robert Mudie, Hampshire: its past and present condition, and future prospects, Vol. II (Winchester, 1838), p. 328.

[4] Richard John King, A handbook for travellers in Surrey, Hampshire, and the Isle of Wight, Third Edition, Revised (London, 1876), p. 192.

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New Forest: evening barbecues and uninvited guests

Dining out-of-doors requires good weather, good company and good food.

A recent spell of mild, sunny weather finally brought forth the idea of having a barbecue to my mind. What could be more pleasant than to invite a few friends over to enjoy an alfresco feast in an English country garden and watch the sun set over the New Forest? However, I was conscious that my guests would be plagued by the attentions of those most unwelcome of picnic seekers – wasps. I’ve been aware of a rather large colony that has made its nest in the flat roof on one of the farm buildings near the house. Their comings and goings have not impacted on my daily activities, other than being interrupted by the loud buzzing of an occasional colony member trapped in the kitchen. I’ve not felt threatened by their presence and, up until this point, I’ve been quite happy to leave well alone. On the whole wasps don’t upset me too much and, because they feed on the aphids that attack garden flowers and plants, can be good for the garden. But I kept thinking about the uncomfortable effect that a nearby colony containing 5,000-10,000 wasps would have on my guests. I have to admit to feeling a sense of perverse amusement when watching someone trying to avoid the attentions of a pestering wasp. The wasp-human interaction seems to bring on a bout of eccentric semaphore in the person, as they wave and flap their arms about to be rid of the mini-beast. Sometimes, this animated gesturing can turn into a fully-fledged dance that has every appearance of a marionette under the control of a novice puppeteer. To avoid such embarrassing antics, and the risk of someone being stung, I decided to take a look at some suggestions for getting rid of wasps and came across one that I definitely won’t be using.

Destroying Wasps in 1878
In the 1878 edition of the Journal of Horticulture and Practical Gardening, in an article entitled ‘Destroying Wasps’, I found what is undoubtedly an extreme and highly dangerous form of pest control. On a visit to the New Forest, the author of the article (W. F.) had come across one of the keepers setting fire to a wasp’s nest and decided to show him a form of ‘sugaring’ to try instead. Using a ‘good lump of cyanide of potassium’, which had been moistened and wrapped in a piece of rag, the author poked the bundle into the entrance of an active nest with a stick. After half an hour all the wasps were as dead as ‘red herrings’. Nevertheless, the author finished his article with a word of warning saying, ‘I ought to say that cyanide is a most deadly poison, and requires very careful handling, and after using it do not lick your fingers’. I should say not! Even small quantities of cyanide can be fatal within minutes, and the substance is now strictly controlled under the Poisons Act 1972. Thankfully, employing an experienced pest controller proved to be the solution to my wasp problem. My evening of outdoor dining went according to plan and the only pests present were my Labradors, moving like sharks under the table, ever hopeful for a fallen scrap or two. My guests thoroughly enjoyed their BBQ, without being troubled by buzzing insects and all without fear for licking their fingers.

Wasps are seldom welcome guests where people congregate


The Journal of Horticulture, Cottage Gardener and Country Gentleman: A Chronicle of the Homestead, Poultry Yard, Apiary & Dovecote Conducted by George W Johnson and Robert Hogg – October 30, 1878, page 335.

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New Forest: trees – our natural and cultural assets

Traditional management practices, particularly commoning, have sustained the ecology and environmental diversity of the New Forest.

Without a doubt, the free-roaming animals of the New Forest are an asset to the local economy and, as ‘architects of the Forest’, are one of the most important bio-forces that sustain the ecology and environmental constituency of the landscape. Commoners’ animals – ponies, cattle, and pigs – have been grazing the heathland, lawns and woods since ancient times. Their grazing and browsing habits have influenced the growth and management of one of the other major assets to the New Forest – its trees. The New Forest boasts many varieties of tree, some native species, such as oak, ash, beech and silver birch, as well as some introduced species, which include cedar, elm and sweet chestnut.[1] Many of these trees will have been quietly growing in their Forest home during some of the most formative events in our country’s history. The Knightwood Oak, for example, is one the most senior of the New Forest’s trees, and is believed to have been a mere sapling when Henry VIII and his court visited the Forest to hunt its deer. Indeed, once upon a time the Forest’s trees were robustly preserved as food and shelter for the king’s deer; then economic and political attitudes changed markedly and trees began to be seen as a resource to fuel industry, manufacturing and commerce. It now begs the question; what value do we place on trees today?

Valued asset or political expedient?
Our attitude and treatment of trees is a reflection of our wider outlook on the natural world, but this mind-set is not always to the credit of our species. A case in point is the policy of wholesale felling that has been adopted in Sheffield, through which thousands of trees have been cut down. This has been a disturbing development; more so, because the policy has been implemented in spite of convincing evidence supporting the preservation of the trees, and for being executed in the face of tremendous local and national opposition.[2] Some of these mature, but healthy, trees marked boundaries of old field-edges or were local landmarks, and some were even planted as memorials to those who gave their lives in both World Wars. However, Sheffield’s local authority has decided it is cheaper to remove the trees than to maintain them. More recently, a road-widening scheme could see Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Wisley lose 500 trees, including one planted by the Queen to mark her silver jubilee, to make way for ‘major improvements at the junction of the M25 and A3 in Surrey’. [3] The planned loss of trees, in order to accommodate infrastructure projects or to balance Council budgets, is an alarming precedent, which has troubling implications for those involved in preserving and managing the natural and cultural assets of our landscape. I am reminded of the English proverb, ‘He that plants trees loves others besides himself’. If planting trees is a benevolent act that will be enjoyed by others, what does it say about those who want to remove them? As I walk through the woods and glades of the New Forest, to check on my stock, I am thankful to all the Forest folk from previous generations who have left such a leafy legacy across this ancient landscape for the benefit of my animals and me. However, I am also wary of the need to be vigilant just in case the values of the Forest’s natural and cultural assets are replaced by a more profit-driven or politically expedient agenda.

If trees gave off Wi-Fi we’d be planting more.


[1] ‘Discover British Trees’, Woodland Trust website: [accessed 25 August 2017].

[2] ‘What the Experts Say’, Sheffield Tree Actions Groups website: [accessed 25 August 2017].

[3] ‘Alan Titchmarsh vows to save Queen’s tree in M25 row’, BBC News online (25 August 2017): [accessed 25 August 2017].

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New Forest: biblical weather of yesteryear

The ‘Big Freeze’ of 1962-1963 is within living memory of many of the New Forest commoners.

This week our annual, late-summer appointment with the chimney sweep occurred, and just as well because there have been a few nights over the past week or so that I’ve been sorely tempted to light a fire in the hearth. Usually, fires are not lit at home until after the end of British Summer Time (BST), when the autumn clock’s go back an hour. Apparently though, I wasn’t the only customer to have been feeling the cold of late, and even the sweep had himself considered turning on the heating. Unseasonal weather in the New Forest is generally remembered more, I believe, because of its ‘working’ nature, either through forestry, or agriculture and commoning. People working out-of-doors and at the mercy of the elements do tend to become fixated on the weather. Though, some episodes from history, as recorded by contemporary accounts, have taken on seemingly biblical proportions; and a few of these singular meteorological events, such as the ‘Big Freeze’ of 1962-1963 have even occurred within living memory. Indeed, many commoners from the senior generation have plenty of tales to tell of floods, droughts, hurricanes and prolonged snowfall. This preoccupation with the weather has plenty of historical precedent, and is an acknowledged British pastime, but the eighteenth century, in particular, seems to have been a period for violent storms locally, giving people plenty to talk about.

The Great Storm
One of the first significant weather events widely recorded became known as ‘The Great Storm’. The damage done during the night of 26th November 1703 included upwards of 400 windmills that were either blown down or ‘took fire, by the violence with which their sails were driven round by the wind’.[1] It was reported that the Royal Navy had lost 15 ships, and more than 300 merchant vessels were destroyed, with upwards of 6,000 British seamen losing their lives.[2] At Ringwood and Fordingbridge several houses and trees were blown down, and many houses uncovered [i.e. had their roofs blown off].[3] According to one witness, above 4,000 trees were blown down in the New Forest, ‘some of prodigious Bigness’.[4] In July 1760 a violent thunderstorm fell near Fordingbrige and Ringwood casting so much rain, that the water of the brooks running from the New Forest into the River Avon was, ‘in less than an hours time’, raised to the height of ten or twelve feet.[5] This flash flood was so severe that ‘great quantities of hay and thread, which was whitening in the meadows near Fordingbridge, were swept away by the inundation, as were also great numbers of hogs, together with their sties. At Gorely eighteen hogs were carried off at once, but saved by the diligence of a neighbouring farmer’.[6]

Fordingbridge tornado
Newspapers in February 1770, reported that Fordingbridge parish church (St. Mary’s) was ‘much damaged by a tornado, which entirely stripped the lead off the north side of the roof of the middle aisle, from the tower even to the west door; the gust of wind was so furious that the sheets of lead weighing in the whole upwards of two ton, were many of them rent like paper, and all carried away with great velocity entirely over the said roof, and falling on the opposite side, carried with it several yards of the parapet wall, many large stones of which were thrown over into the south side of the Church-yard. To prevent any further desolation the workmen immediately ascended the church, but being unable to withstand the violence of the hurricane, were obliged to retire’.[7] Whether the eighteenth century was unusual, in terms of global weather patterns, I could not say; but it certainly put the recent chilly-snap of my experience into perspective.

Moody skies over the Forest: people working out-of-doors and at the mercy of the elements do tend to become fixated on the weather. 


[1] ‘Royal Navy in Commission’ in The Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle for 1847 (London, 1847), p. 45.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Daniel Defoe, An Historical Narrative of the Great and Tremendous Storm: which happened on Nov, 26th, 1703 (London, 1769), p.88.

[4] Ibid, p. 113.

[5] Lloyd’s Evening Post and British Chronicle (London, England), July 7, 1760 – July 9, 1760.

[6] London Evening Post (London, England), July 8, 1760 – July 10, 1760.

[7] Lloyd’s Evening Post (London, England), February 12, 1770 – February 14, 1770.

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New Forest: BBC behaviour broadcast (1927)

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

August is a busy month on the New Forest. The tourist season is in full swing, with lots of people coming to enjoy the scenic beauty of this marvellous landscape. Luckily, the majority of visitors attracted to this unique area know how to respect its special qualities and generally leave it in the same condition in which they found it. However, in times past this was not always the case, and in August 1927 the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) took an active part in trying to educate holidaymakers about their impact on the countryside. The following message was broadcast twice on BBC radio* on the ‘eve of all public holidays and on every Thursday evening throughout the summer’,

‘With every general holiday there comes the same story of field, moorland, footpath and road bestrewn with litter, sandwich papers, chocolate cartons, photographic film covers, tobacco covers, orange peel, match boxes, and other forms of refuse, which are to be found wherever the holidaymaker has penetrated. One hears of walls pulled down, farm gates left open, flowers torn up, and of wanton damage in many forms. The litter is chiefly caused by thoughtlessness. Will all holidaymakers please remember that besides offending the eye this litter is sometimes a danger, and that the carelessly disregarded match and cigarette are possible causes of serious moorland, heathland, and woodland fires? We appeal to all listeners to do their utmost to prevent litter being left about or damage done to the countryside’.[1]

National newspapers also reported on the BBC campaign, and urged listeners of the appeal not to scatter rubbish on the countryside and abstain from damaging it. The Times, for instance, reported that as part of the broadcast promotion motorists had been issued with a warning in connexion with the dangers arising from wandering ponies in the New Forest, and an appeal was also made asking holidaymakers visiting the coast, not to bury empty glass bottles in the sand. It was hoped that the transmissions would reach millions of people and that ‘satisfactory results may be obtained by them’. A later report, from 1929, which carried the headline ‘Litter in Public Places’ bemoaned that London parks and ‘other places of popular resort….are rendered unsightly by the accumulation of litter, particularly on Bank Holidays, and….that it cost £17 to clear Kew Green of litter after August Bank Holiday’.[2] In August 1930, the dangers of litter in the New Forest were highlighted in a news report, which stated that in the previous year 175 wild fires had been started ‘by the sun shining through glass bottles’. The anti-litter brigade that was formed as a consequence to call public attention to the matter, suggested a number of measures to combat the problem. One tactic involved ‘motor-car litter parties’ that would patrol the Forest on a given day armed with prongs and baskets for the collection of litter; while a further suggestion was that the anti-litter brigade should provide demonstrations of the correct conduct of a picnic by the proper clearance of the ground afterwards.[3]
Thankfully today, the problem of litter does not seem as bad as it was nearly 100 years ago but, nevertheless, the problem does persist and it seems that no matter what form of education is used, there is a minority of people who will never learn.

*The first regular BBC television broadcasts were not aired until 1936.

Be a friend to the New Forest and take your litter away with you.

[1] Litter And Refuse, The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Aug 03, 1927; pg. 8; Issue 44650.

[2] Litter In Public Places, The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Jul 03, 1929; pg. 13; Issue 45245.

[3] Anti-Litter Crusade, The Sunday Times (London, England), Sunday, August 24, 1930; pg. 15; Issue 5602.


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New Forest: barter rather than dump unwanted produce

The vegetable patch is bursting with produce, which can be used to barter locally for other goods.

Without a doubt we live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. The autumnal mists in the early mornings of late add more than a touch of picturesque atmosphere to the landscape, as they weave their slivery threads across the heathland and down into the valleys. It’s a fabulous time of year that evokes the old world charm of harvest and gathering. On the holding at home, the vegetable patch is bursting with produce, from flavoursome carrots to impressive sized marrows. Any surplus is generally traded with friends and neighbours for chicken’s or duck’s eggs, trout, wool, home-produced sausages and homemade wine or chutney – depending on what is available. Now is a time of plenty, when a trip to garden can become an al fresco banquet. Even the family of squirrels, who live in the copse at the end of the garden, have given up their daily bird-table predations to feast instead on the bonanza of fallen hazelnuts that litter the ground. The ponies on the Open Forest are looking well too, including the mares that have been suckling foals for the past few months. Their glossy coats and decent covering of flesh is testament to the good availability of grazing that they have been able to access so far this year. It seems that, when it comes to the free-roaming animals, Mother Nature always provides.

Well intentioned people harm the animals
Living ‘wild’ means that ponies cannot be managed in the same way as domesticated horses and ponies, but they are managed nonetheless and do not need supplementary feeding. However, at this time of year some well-intentioned people, who are perhaps experiencing their own surplus of garden produce, are prone to dumping unwanted fruit or vegetables on the Open Forest for the ponies (and donkeys) to eat. This is a practice that is not only dangerous to the animals, but also contrary to the New Forest Byelaws. Leaving food out for the ponies, and also hand-feeding for that matter, entices the free-roaming animals away from the Open Forest into areas with high volumes of traffic, such as car parks. I’ve seen for myself, ponies squabbling aggressively over a pile of carrots left on a busy roadside verge. They were so intent on ensuring their share of the booty that they were totally oblivious to the traffic whizzing past them. More recently, the New Forest Verderers had to issue a warning about the dangers of feeding the Forest animals, after two buckets of apples were left at Bramshaw Golf Course. This isn’t a treat for the ponies and, however well intentioned, not an act of kindness on the part of the donor; it’s potentially harmful to the animals. Gorging on foodstuffs, such as apples, can cause a fatal colic in ponies, which is an agonising and slow death for the sufferer. Therefore, anyone finding themselves with a glut of apples, or other such garden produce, would be much better off finding a more appropriate (and human) recipient of their largesse. In my experience, such exchanges can lead to a much more beneficial outcome all round; by turning unwanted produce into more useful goods or ingredients, and even stimulating the local bartering economy; while leaving Mother Nature (and the commoners) to care for the animals.

Living ‘wild’ means that ponies cannot be managed in the same way as domesticated horses and ponies, but they are managed nonetheless and do not need supplementary feeding.

The New Forest Byelaws – Section 16, paras 1-3 – are quite specific about not feeding the commonable animals: 

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New Forest & Hampshire County Show 2017

The ‘Heart of the Forest’ area of the New Forest Show is a great place to learn about the New Forest.

I recently attended the three-day New Forest & Hampshire County Show, where I spent a lot of time catching up with old friends and making new contacts. The organisers make every effort to maintain the show’s founding ethos, which was established after WW1, to support farming interests and encourage agricultural improvements by increasing the awareness and understanding of agriculture, breeding stock, forestry, equestrianism and horticulture to the widest possible audience. This emphasis has helped to maintain a large event that nevertheless retains a countryside focus and village atmosphere. I prefer to get to the show ground early, just as the traders are opening up their stalls, and leave when they are closing. This means that there is plenty of time to walk round and look at the cattle, pigs and sheep, talk to the livestock exhibitors about their animals, and watch the showing classes. My favourite part of the show ground is the ‘Heart of the Forest’ area, where the Verderers and Commoners Defence Association have a stand. There is always a warm welcome, lively conversation, plenty of laughs and, if you’re lucky, tasty refreshments to be had. It’s a great place to hear some of the old stories, learn about many of the Forest issues, and put faces to names.

Hedge tickets
All the New Forest related activities, such as the New Forest pony showing classes, are scheduled for the Wednesday, which harks back to the time when the show was a one-day event. Wednesday was early closing day in the district and by holding the show on this day organisers could expect a greater local attendance. In times past the show was held at Bartley Cross and entrance to the first show was charged at two shillings and four pence. The show was an immediate success, which eventually required it to move to the present, more accommodating location. Even from its earliest days, the show has been a popular local event and now attracts crowds from across the region. I got into conversation with one of the show organisers, an impressive-looking gentleman wearing a smart suit, Show Society tie, and bowler hat, who confessed to me that as a boy he used to cycle to the ground and enter on a ‘hedge ticket’, which involved gaining access via a suitable and unobserved hole in the fence. He wasn’t the only one. Many of the more senior patrons of the show – all now fine upstanding members of the community, I hasten to add – had similar stories to tell of how they had dodged paying for a ticket by one means or another, when they were children. I think it must have been a right of passage for a former generation – if you’ll excuse the pun. Security arrangements have improved vastly since then of course, but more than that; the New Forest Agricultural Show Society has been a registered charity since 1992, which means that by buying a ticket you are also supporting a very worthy cause. Dates for your diary: next year’s New Forest & Hampshire County Show will be held from Tuesday 24th July to Thursday 26th July 2018.

The New Forest & Hampshire County Show is now a popular regional event.

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New Forest: every day is a school day

Many varieties of grasses make up the meadow hay used for feeding the livestock over the winter.

The Londoners came to visit again this weekend. These are family members who live in our nation’s capital and, every now and then, when their busy social or work schedules allow, will leave the hectic pace of city-life, traffic jams, and air pollution behind and escape to the quiet of the country for a few days. As usual, the children, all pre-teenage, are keen to help around the smallholding or go off and explore the New Forest, to identify and count as many animal, bird and insect species as they can find. I’m taking advantage of their enthusiasm at this stage in their lives and trying to fill their eyes, hands, minds, and hearts with as much wonder and knowledge of the natural world, as I possibly can. In the New Forest, let’s face it; there is plenty of material to work with for encouraging the next generation of entomologists, ornithologists and botanists. I was also inspired by the New Forest Young Commoners and a backyard project that they have been developing, which I have tried to encourage my young visitors to copy. The lifestyle of the commoners means that they, like their ponies, generally stay in the same area, which they will know intimately. Turning out livestock onto the Open Forest, and checking them regularly, requires frequent visits to the haunts and shades where the animals dwell, and as a result the commoners will have a detailed knowledge of their part of the Forest, which will also include bird-nesting sites, rare plants, geological characteristics, and even stories of historical interest. The Young Commoners are aware of this boon and have been recording and charting the features in their own backyards, which encompass much of the Forest’s plant, insect and animal life, accumulating knowledge that they are able to share with others.

Every day is a school day
So, I have set my young visitors the task of collecting and identifying some of the vegetation around my own holding to get them to recognise and learn something about the natural wonders that can be found in one’s own backyard. Our explorations in the meadow have so far revealed some of the grasses that end up in the hay used to feed the livestock, such as sweet timothy, meadow fescue, and common couch; and an abundance of wild flowers in the hedgerows and copse, including wild chamomile, yellow pimpernel, and common sorrel. My young visitors love to see the woodpeckers, gold finches, and nuthatches that visit the bird feeders in the garden, but they are even more thrilled to hear or see the resident buzzards as they circle on the thermals above the paddocks. They certainly love to pet the field-kept ponies and play with the dogs, but to interact with wildlife seems to be much more thrilling. It is interesting how encouraging curiosity in the young can also provide opportunities to expand our own learning. As the old saying goes, “every day is a school day”, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have access to such an amazing class room as the New Forest.

The green woodpecker is a regular visitor to the garden.

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