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Friday, 18 March 2011

Europe’s largest Habitat Stewardship Scheme celebrates landmark first year

A  partnership scheme to improve the New Forest’s unique landscape and bolster the ancient commoning way of life celebrates a landmark first year.

The Higher Level Stewardship Scheme (HLS) – worth £16m of European money over 10 years – is managed by a partnership of the Verderers, the Forestry Commission and the New Forest National Park Authority.

(Left to right): HLS scheme partners Mike Seddon (Forestry Commission Deputy Surveyor),
Alison Barnes (New Forest National Park Authority Chief Executive),
and Official Verderer Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre hand over the keys of the new Agisters’
landrovers to the Head Agister Jonathan Gerrelli.
Some of the successes to date include:

  • payments to encourage Commoners to continue to turn their ponies, cattle, donkeys and pigs out on the Forest, as the practice is not financially viable but is critical to sustain the ecology and landscape
  • large scale projects to restore and improve wetland habitats across the New Forest
  • upgrading the Beaulieu Road Sale Yard where Commoners sell their animals. This has involved a challenging project to install a mains water pipeline across a highly-sensitive and publicly-accessible conservation area
  • part-funding an independent Land Advice Service to provide land management advice and help Commoners secure grants and support to care for their land for the benefit of the environment
  • a major programme of replacing gates across the Forest with a more sympathetic and user-friendly design to improve access for those with disabilities
  • a project to address the need for retaining important blood lines which would otherwise be lost from the existing stock of New Forest ponies, threatening the future of the breed
  • new Landrovers and stock trailers for the Agisters, who look after the day-to-day welfare of the Commoners’ stock on the open Forest
  • support for the New Forest stallion scheme which ensures that only the best stallions are turned out on the Forest
  • a comprehensive census of Commoners to help define the future direction of support for Commoning using HLS funds
  • projects to help protect the archaeological features of the Forest, and which help educate the public and visitors

Official Verderer Oliver Crosthwaite Eyre said: ‘The HLS is actively funding an enormous amount of activity across the Forest which it is hoped will both support the long-term viability of the commoning system and restore and enhance the landscape.  We hope that after nine more years of this level of spending and activity the legacy of the HLS will be plain for all to see.’

New Forest National Park Authority Chief Executive Alison Barnes said: ‘The HLS scheme is a fantastic example of the Forest working in partnership. I’m excited to see the great strides forward we have made in our first year and the possibilities over the whole 10 years of the scheme are enormous. I look forward to many more local people and local organisations joining with us to develop and deliver projects to make a real difference to the Forest.’

Forestry Commission Deputy Surveyor Mike Seddon said: ‘At the present time of financial challenges, the HLS scheme is coming into its own. It is not only funding some very important works, but also showing that Forest organisations can find new ways of working together. The scheme is enabling the aspirations of Forest communities to be met on the ground.’

Recommended Reading: The Environmental Stewardship Scheme

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