New Forest

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Buckler's Hard on the Beaulieu River

The New Forest is an area of Hampshire in England which includes the largest remaining tracts of unenclosed pasture land, heathland and old-growth forest in the heavily-populated south east of England. The New Forest was designated a National Park in 2005.



Like much of England, the New Forest was originally forested, but parts were cleared for cultivation from the Stone Age and into the Bronze Age. However, the poor quality of the soil in the new forest meant that the cleared areas turned into heathland "waste".

The New Forest was created as a royal forest in 1079 by William the Conqueror for the hunting of (mainly) deer. It was first recorded as "Nova Foresta" in the Domesday Book in 1086. William's successor, William Rufus was killed in a suspicious accident while hunting in the New Forest in 1100. The reputed spot of the king's death is marked with a stone known as the Rufus Stone. As of 2005, roughly 90% of the New Forest is still owned by the Crown. The Crown lands have been managed by the Forestry Commission since 1923. Around 50% of the Crown lands fall inside the new National Park.

Over time, the New Forest became an important source of wood for the Royal Navy, and plantations were begun to replace the felled trees. In the Great Storm of 1703, about 4,000 oak trees were lost in the New Forest.

The naval plantations encroached on the rights of the Commoners, but the Forest gained new protection under an Act of Parliament in 1877. The New Forest Act 1877 confirmed the historic rights of the Commoners and prohibited the enclosure or more than 16,000 acres at any time. It also reconstituted the Court of Verderers as representatives of the Commoners (rather than the Crown).

Felling of broadleaf trees, and replacement by conifers, began during the First World War to meet the wartime demand for wood. Further encroachments were made in the Second World War. This process is today being reversed in places, with some plantations being returned to heathland or broadleaf woodland.

Further New Forest Acts followed in 1949, 1964 and 1970. The New Forest became a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1971, and was granted special status as the "New Forest Heritage Area" in 1992. It became a National Park in 2005.

Common rights

Forest Laws were enacted to preserve the New Forest as a location for royal deer hunting, and interference with the King's deer and its forage was severely punished. Over time, the local inhabitants ("Commoners") were granted or took on various "rights of common": to turn ponies, cattle and donkeys (and formerly sheep) out into the Forest to graze ("common pasture"), to gather wood ("estovers"), to gather bracken after 29 September as litter for animals ("fern"), to cut peat for fuel ("turbary"), to dig clay ("marl"), and to turn out pigs between September and November to eat fallen acorns and beechnuts ("pannage" or "mast"). Along with grazing, pannage is still an important part of the forest ecology. Pigs can eat acorns without a problem, whereas to ponies the acorns are poisonous. Pannage always lasts 60 days but the start date varies according to the weather - and when the acorns fall. The Court of Verderers decides when pannage will start each year. At other times the pigs must be taken in and kept on the owner's land, with the exception that pregnant sows, known as "privileged sows" are always allowed out providing they return to the Commoner's holding at night, and are not a nuisance. This is not a true Right, it is an established practice.


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A New Forest pony.

The New Forest SSSI covers almost 300 square kilometres and is the largest contiguous area of un-sown vegetation in lowland Britain. It includes roughly:

  • 146 km² of broadleaf forest
  • 118 km² of heathland and grassland
  • 33 km² of wet heathland
  • 84 km² of tree plantations established since the 18th century (including 80 km² planted by the Forestry Commission since the 1920s).

It is drained to the south by two rivers, the Lymington and Beaulieu.


As well as providing a visually remarkable and historic landscape, the ecological value of the New Forest is particularly great because of the relatively large areas of lowland habitats, lost elsewhere, which have survived. The area contains several kinds of important lowland habitat including valley bogs, wet heaths and deciduous woodland. The area contains a profusion of other rare wildlife, including the New Forest cicada, the only cicada native to Great Britain. The wet heaths are important for rare plants, such as marsh gentian Gentiana pneumonanthe and marsh clubmoss Lycopodiella inundata. Several species of sundew may be found in the Forest, and the area is also the habitat of many unusual insect species, including the Southern damselfly Coenagrion mercuriale, the Stag beetle Lucanus cervus and the narrow-headed ant, Formica exsecta, recorded there by Horace Donisthorpe.

The extensive grazing of animals by commoners has also contributed to the maintenance of these habitats. The traditional and still common New Forest "lawns" are areas of very short dense grass kept short by constant grazing. The famous New Forest ponies are not only tourist attractions but vital to maintain the heathlands and other habitats. Similarly, commoners' pigs and cattle are allowed to roam freely at certain times, keeping areas of woodland and grassland grazed.


Among the towns and villages lying in or adjacent to the Forest are Lyndhurst (which claims to be the 'capital' of the New Forest), Brockenhurst, Fordingbridge, Ringwood, Beaulieu and Lymington. It is bounded to the west by Bournemouth and to the east by the city of Southampton. The forest gives its name to the New Forest district of Hampshire.

New Forest National Park

National Park area in green; pink area shows the county of  for comparison
National Park area in green; pink area shows the county of Hampshire for comparison

Consultations on the possible designation of a National Park in the New Forest were commenced by the Countryside Agency in 1999. In February 2002 they submitted a draft order to the Secretary of State. Following objections from seven local authorities and others, a Public Inquiry was held from October 2002 to April 2003, concluding in the proposals being endorsed with some detailed changes to the boundary of the area to be designated.

On June 28, 2004, Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael confirmed the government's intention to designate the area as a National Park, with further detailed boundary adjustments. The area was formally designated as such on March 1, 2005. A National Park Authority for the New Forest will be established in April 2005 and assume its full statutory powers in April 2006.[1] (

The designated area of 571 km² includes many existing SSSIs. It has a population of approximately 38,000 (excluding most of the 170,256 people who live in the New Forest local government district). As well as most of the New Forest district of Hampshire, it takes in a small corner of Test Valley district around the village of Canada, and part of the Salisbury district in Wiltshire south-east of Redlynch.

However, the area covered by the park does not include all the areas which were initially proposed; excluding most of the valley of the River Avon to the west of the forest and Dibden Bay to the east.

External links


National parks of England and Wales:
Current Parks:

Brecon Beacons | The Broads | Dartmoor | Exmoor | Lake District | New Forest | North York Moors | Northumberland | Peak District | Pembrokeshire Coast | Snowdonia | Yorkshire Dales

Proposed Park:

South Downs

nl:New Forest

no:New Forest


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