The New Forest National Park was designated a national park on the 1st April 2005 and managed by the Forestry Commission and covers an area of 566 km2.
The New Forest was proclaimed a royal forest, in about 1079, by William the Conqueror and was used for royal hunts, mainly of deer, created at the expense of more than 20 small hamlets and isolated farmsteads; hence it was then ‘new’ as a single compact area. The term forest in the ordinary modern understanding refers to an area of wooded land, however, the original medieval sense was closer to the modern idea of a “preserve”, i.e. land legally set aside for specific purposes such as royal hunting.
Two of William’s sons died in the forest: Prince Richard in 1081 and King William II (William Rufus) in 1100, local folklore asserted that this was punishment for the crimes committed by William when he created his New Forest. The reputed spot of Rufus’s death is marked with a stone known as the Rufus Stone.
The common rights were confirmed by statute in 1698. The New Forest became a source of timber for the Royal Navy, and plantations were created in the 18th century for this purpose. The naval plantations encroached on the rights of the Commoners, but the Forest gained new protection under the New Forest Act 1877, which confirmed the historic rights of the Commoners and prohibited the enclosure of more than 65 km2 at any time. It also reconstituted the Court of Verderers as representatives of the Commoners, rather than the Crown.
But the inhabitants of the area, commoners, had pre-existing rights of common, to turn horses and cattle out into the Forest to graze common pasture, to gather fuel wood, to cut peat for fuel, to dig clay, and to turn out pigs between September and November to eat fallen acorns and beechnuts. There were also licences granted to gather bracken after Michaelmas Day as litter for animals (fern). Along with grazing, pannage is still an important part of the Forest’s ecology. Pannage always lasts 60 days, but the start date varies according to the weather, and when the acorns fall.
Commoners’ cattle, ponies and donkeys roam throughout the open heath and much of the woodland, and it is largely their grazing that maintains the open character of the Forest. They are also frequently seen in the Forest villages, where home and shop owners must take care to keep them out of gardens and shops. The New Forest pony is one of the indigenous horse breeds of the British Isles, and is one of the New Forest’s most famous attractions
Roughly 90% of the New Forest is still owned by the Crown whose lands have been managed by the Forestry Commission since 1923 and most of the Crown lands now fall inside the new National Park.
Among the towns and villages lying in or adjacent to the Forest are Lyndhurst, Abbotswell, Hythe, Blissford, Sway, Burley, Brockenhurst, Fordingbridge, Frogham, Hyde, Stuckton, Ringwood, Beaulieu, Bransgore, Lymington and New Milton.
Beside, camping, walking, cycling and horse riding in the forest there is The New Forest Reptile Centre, New Forest Wildlife Park, New Forest Tour, New Forest Show, New Forest Museum & Visitor Centre Lyndhurst, Exbury Gardens, Beaulieu, Hatchet Pond, Hurst Castle and Hurst Point Lighthouse and don’t forget that you can always spend the day at the beach.
We love the New Forest, for us it represents days of exploring on foot, getting out in the open away from everything. It is busy in the Forest during tourist season, but isn’t everywhere. There are simply loads of parking areas all along the roads, so you can just pull up and go for a walk, have a picnic or just enjoy the view.