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Tuesday, 24 August 2010

What is the New Forest?

Author: Pete Carpenter
Website: New Forest National Park

Understanding what the New Forest is, how it came to be and why the now National Park is such an important part of southern England's heritage will help you get more out of your visit to the area, and hopefully give you a healthier respect and admiration for this part of Hampshire.

Essentially, the New Forest is an area on the very south-central coast of England, covering approximately 150 square miles.

The 1964 New Forest Act defined the perambulation of the Forest, a term used to describe the official area boundary and land enclosed within. The picture below shows the New Forest perambulation (green), compared to today's National Park (red):

But the New Forest as we know it today exists solely because it was designated a royal hunting ground by King William I in the year 1079AD, as were certain other areas within the British Isles.

However, the word 'forest' in this context doesn't follow the usual meaning of the word. Instead, it was the term used to describe an area of land purchased under law ('afforested') for use by the Crown, in this case King William I.

When the New Forest was created in 1079, it immediately fell under very strict Norman Forest Laws, put into place to protect the natural wildlife of the area - not just the animals (notably deer and wild boar) but also the vegetation that they fed upon. These laws ensured a plentiful supply of fresh meat to the Crown, as well as offering good sporting opportunities within the designated area for the King and his noblemen to partake.

The unjustly harsh laws were aimed at the local peasants of the New Forest, or 'commoners', and they prohibited anyone from interfering in any way with the natural lives of wild animals and their feeding habits. Specifically, commoners were not allowed to fence their properties to keep their own animals (ponies, cattle and pigs) from wandering off, because fences could impede the free running deer and boar.

In return for abiding by these laws the commoners were permitted certain rights, including the right to graze their animals on the Open Forest.

This particular law and the associated grazing rights had a huge influence over shaping the New Forest, and these basic rights still exist today, albeit in a somewhat more civilised form! read more....

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