New Forest National Park Pocket Guide ebook

Commoners & Commoning

The present-day existence of New Forest Commoners and their commoning practices is an everyday reminder of the birth of the New Forest, when it was declared a Royal hunting ground by King William I in 1079AD.

This declaration of the area was to ensure good sporting opportunities for the King and his noblemen, as well as providing the Crown with the associated bountiful supply of fresh meat, such as game and venison.
But to the locals, or 'commoners', of the area the declaration was bad news. Any 'afforested' area (land claimed by the Crown; the New Forest was one of several such areas throughout England) fell under very strict Forest Laws, which essentially prohibited the local inhabitants from interfering with the free-run and daily lives of the wild animals, namely the deer and wild boar.

One of the primary Forest Laws prevented the commoners from fencing their properties, because any fencing may well impede the fair chase of a deer or boar by the King on a hunting trip. This law alone is directly responsible for why so many New Forest ponies and cattle are seen on the Open Forest today; in return for abiding by this law, the commoners were given the right to graze their animals on the newly acquired Crown lands of the Open Forest.

Commoners ponies graze on the Open Forest

Above, the right of pasture is by far the most exercised Commoner's right today

New Forest Commoning Rights

The above mentioned commoning right of pasture is by far the most exercised right of New Forest Commoners today. Around 4000 ponies and cattle graze openly on the Forest, and the welfare of these privately-owned animals is undertaken not only by the owners but also the Agisters who are directly employed by the Verderers of the New Forest, a unique local administration responsible for all land use on the Crown lands of the Forest.

Pasture aside, the other five Commoning rights are:

It's important to note that all the Commoning Rights were, and still are where they are in existence, attached to the property and not the owner. So if a Commoner decides to move and their new property doesn't have commoning rights attached to it, they lose the right to graze their animals on the Open Forest, for example, while at the same time the person who moves into their house gains the right, and hence becomes a Commoner.

 

Related pages

Related pagesNew Forest history - how the Forest came to be.

Related pagesNew Forest ponies - the Commoner's trademark animal.

Related pagesVerderers byelaws - the modern laws that the Commoners must abide by.