Commoners of the New Forest are people who own or rent land or property which has an attached right over the Forest. Commoning is an ancient practice, not just confined to the New Forest but all over Britain. When William the Conqueror set aside the New Forest as a royal hunting reserve in 1079. The existing people of the Forest were then no longer free to fence in areas of land. As this would be detrimental to the king’s sport. In order to appease the locals, Commoners were given certain rights, some of which are still valid today.
- Common of pasture: the right to allow ponies, cattle, donkeys and mules to be turned out on the Forest.
- Common of pasture for sheep: (infrequently exercised.)
- Common of mast: the right to turn out pigs in the autumn. This practice is called Pannage, which not only feeds the pigs but helps stop ponies and cattle from eating too many acorns, which can poison them.
- Estovers (Fuelwood): the free supply of a stipulated amount of firewood to certain properties.
- Common of marl: the right to dig clay to improve agricultural land. (this right is no longer exercised.)
- Common of turbary: the right to cut peat turves for the Commoner’s personal use.
These commons rights are carefully controlled and governed by the court of the Verderer’s of the New Forest. The Verderers employ five Agisters to oversee the welfare of the Commoner’s stock (their animals or livestock). Today there are five elected, one Official, and four appointed Verderers. The Verderers Court is located in The Queen’s House, Lyndhurst.
The Common of pasture
The most important right is the Common of Pasture. This right to allow stock to graze the Forest, largely unfenced, is arguably why the New Forest is so loved by millions of people. These ponies are the New Forest’s super stars. They have literally sculpted the Forest into the rich natural diverse landscape that we love today.
In 2011 there were about 7500 depastured (turned out to the Forest) stock. Including 4595 ponies, 2394 cattle, 341 pigs, 135 sheep and 128 donkeys.
Every year, New Forest ponies, foals & donkeys are rounded up and sold at the Beaulieu Road Pony Sales.