Saturday, 12 July 2014

England's New Forest

ND Chic had a few questions about the New Forest. I'm still at the beginning stages of learning about it, but it is one of the prettiest, most unique places I've ever been, so I thought I would try and share a little about it. My cousin's neighbour is very knowledgeable (and can get quite worked up) about the Forest and issues around it. I've got to put it on my to do list to go and visit her and take some notes.

New Forest Pony at Bratley View.

Keep in mind, there are various levels of management, many groups with their own agendas (for lack of a better word) and thousands of people involved with the Forest and its use. I am no expert, but this is a little of what I've learned since I've been here.

The history of the Forest (at least recorded) goes back to William the Conqueror, in 1066. There's an entire Wikipedia page devoted to it, but suffice to say it's been around in it's protected form since that time. The ponies it's famous for (like the one above) pre-date his arrival. He created the area as a hunting ground for himself and it was first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.

The management of the Forest falls to the following:

Commoners: those who live in the Forest and have the Right of Common. I'm still a bit unclear on what exactly it is, but essentially it gives some New Foresters (not all) the right to depasture their animals in the Forest to graze. If I understand it correctly, the Right is attached to a property, not a person, and not everyone who has commoning rights attached to their property uses the right - there isn't money to be made by it these days and not everyone has animals to depasture. Still, without commoning, the Forest would be unmanageable, as it's the animals who shape and manage the foliage.

Above the commoners there are a lot of levels, all responsible for different aspects: Verderers, Agisters, Keepers, Forestry Commission and the National Parks. Most of the land still belongs to the Crown.

This link explains it much better than I can. It's quite a complicated chain of command. Maintaining the Forest bylaws - of which there are many - and being the people who "arrest settlement by the local inhabitants" are the Verderers. Basically, if you want to build, add to or modify your property in any way and your plans infringe on the Forest, you will need to modify or start again if they don't approve it. The Verderers also have the 'bible' of Forest Rights which, for a fee, you can review to see if your property holds any of these:

"Commoners of the New Forest are those who occupy land or property to which attaches one or more rights over the Forest. These rights are:

Common of pasture: commonable animals - ponies, cattle, donkeys and mules - are turned out into the Open Forest;
Common of pasture for sheep: although some of the large estates have this right, it is infrequently exercised;
Common of mast: the right to turn out pigs in the autumn to devour the acorns - this provides food for the pigs and reduces the threat to ponies and cattle from the poisonous acorns;
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.

The most important right is the Common of Pasture. Those who wish to exercise this right must apply to the Verderers' Clerk who will confirm the existence of the right and allocate a brand for the animals. Once branded, they may be turned out into the Forest upon payment of a Marking Fee to the local Agister."

The Marking Fees pay the Agister wages, which is why one bone of contention is those who allow their animals to wander into the Forest (from boundary areas), but don't pay the marking fees. The Agister is (partially) responsible for the care of (domestic) animals within the Forest, so even those who don't contribute to their work get their animals taken care. If an unmarked animal gets hit by a car, the Agister is called to the scene and sometimes has to put the animal out of its misery, the same as he would if a marked animal got hit. It's the lazy way to get others to take care of your animals.

This link is full of details about how it all works. I pick and choose what I want to read, but it's got everything from monthly Court minutes, to bylaws, to job descriptions, to animal accidents, etc.

Domestic animals on the Forest are ponies, cows, donkeys, sheep, and pigs. The pigs are generally allowed out only in the fall, as they eat the acorns that fall from the oak trees, which can be harmful to the other animals. The ponies can trace their bloodlines back to pre-1066. They are beautiful animals, sturdy and hardy and unless they're unhealthy in some way, generally spend all year on the Forest, wandering the hundreds of acres. The animals are marked (hence the marking fees) by brands (owner) and cut tails (Agister), so you know immediately who is responsible for the animal if something happens. 

This is how comfortable the ponies are around people. And also why you have to be so terribly careful when driving. All the animals wander where they will and unfortunately, some drivers are not careful. Hit and runs are, sadly, not uncommon and particularly disliked by Forest folk.

There are 5 Agisters. The Forest is divided into 4 areas - one for each Agister (this is the only map I could find - it loses clarity if it gets any bigger), and with Area 1 shared between two Agisters. Lyndhurst is the Administrative 'nerve centre' of the Forest and where the Verderers and Agisters are headquartered.

There are annual pony 'drifts,' which is essentially a round up of the ponies on the Forest for health checks, weaning of foals and marking. There are several over the course of late summer/early fall and the commoners and Agisters work together to round up their animals and do the necessary work.

The Forest is cool and heavily wooded in the north east, where I am, but opens to heather and furze (scrub) as you travel south. I prefer the trees - ancient oak, beech and maple - but the open areas allow the animals more grazing space. It's not better or worse, just my preference.

The public is warned to stay away from the animals for their own safety, as the animals are generally semi-feral. They can still hurt people and still get hurt by human carelessness (and callousness and stupidity and ignorance). The majority of ponies are mares, and stallions are only allowed on the Forest once a year for a short period of time and in specific places.

Forest at Bratley View.

There are 5 types of deer in the Forest and a myriad of birds and other wildlife: foxes, rabbits, owls, and reptiles of various sorts. And that's not to mention all the flowers and other plantlife! 

It really is a magical place and I am beginning to understand why there is so much passion (on all sides) to protect and use it wisely. I'm not sure I've done it any sort of justice here, but do take a look at the links. There was a lot of use of the Forest in WWII and more recently, too, when an Al Qaida training camp was discovered prior to the current Middle East conflict operating in the Forest under the guise of a holiday camp! O_o

All of this is why I wanted to interview a couple of the officials for my novel. So. Much. Information!! I haven't heard anything, so am going to safely assume this first attempt was rejected. Not to worry, I'll try again at a later date.

And just because... :)

I'm currently somewhat village-bound, as my bike was stolen three weeks ago and I'm relying on my cousin to drop me at the train station in the mornings instead of having a lovely ride. I've been given the opportunity to get a little car in August, which I'm really excited about, but still need to replace the bike. I'm upset because I had the bike I really wanted - I simply can't replace it for the price I paid and what I got with it. It angers me that someone can be so casual with other people's property. I've gone through all the proper steps of reporting it to the police, filling out the paperwork and logging the info online, but as there's only a 1% chance of getting it back, I'm resigned to replacing it.

My cousin is away this weekend, so it's just me and the cat for a couple of days. I'm going to do some baking as well, and then I'm away in Wales next weekend. My SIL, brother & sister and I are going puffin watching in Pembrokeshire - far western Wales. Very excited as I just found out today that my sister was joining us. It's going to be a long trip, but I bought a 1st class ticket for the trip out (at a ridiculous price, to be honest, but I was feeling sorry for myself over the loss of my bike and decided I needed a treat and it's too late to change it now...), so I should at least have a little more legroom and a slightly more comfortable seat.

I didn't get the job I interviewed for either, which is fine. I wasn't expecting to and it wouldn't have been a good fit - it was uber-corporate and I'm not. I'm happy in the job I've got for the time being and I think having a car is going to make it that much easier to find the perfect one. Certainly it'll allow me more freedom and not have to limit myself so much. However, I think once I get a car I will try to find a p/t job to cover costs and earn a bit of extra cash. I still owe a lot of money and am getting a bit stressed out about paying it all back. I think a p/t job is the only answer and that's okay.

Anyway, I hope I've answered some questions and you've enjoyed some of the Forest info I've given.


T'Pol said...

The New Forest sounds like an interesting place to visit. I am so sorry that your bike is stolen. Some people! What kind of a car will you be getting? I know that gas is very expensive in the UK. Not as expensive as it is in Turkey but still..

Northern Living Allowance said...

Hi T'Pol: thank you. It's frustrating, I have to say. I'm going to be getting a little Renault Clio (not sure how old, but it's apparently in pristine condition). I thought gas was not badly priced, actually, about the same as at home. And I'm not planning on driving long distances, just to the station and back and around the Forest, I think I should be okay. Once I get more comfortable driving on the 'wrong' side, I can explore further afield.

Jane said...

That is so interesting! I'm going to see if I can view this forest as I don't think I'll be too far away! Such history- I love it!