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The Higher level Stewardship Scheme (HLS) awarded to the New Forest is unique for a number of reasons.


The scheme, awarded on 16 February 2010 by Natural England, is for 10 years and is worth £1.9m per year to the New Forest, making it the largest funding of an HLS scheme in England, Scotland and Wales.


Partners signing the HLS agreement at the Verderers CourtNormally an HLS scheme is granted to a single landowner by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) through Natural England.

However ‘the Verderers of the New Forest (Higher Level Stewardship)’ scheme is managed through a formal partnership between the Verderers, the Forestry Commission and the New Forest National Park Authority.

This is because in the New Forest:

  • the Crown Lands are managed by the Forestry Commission
  • the Verderers have the statutory authority from Government to manage the use of the land
  • the National Park Authority has overall responsibility for the management of the whole of the New Forest National Park.
The partners signed the historic HLS agreement at the ancient Verderers Court in Lyndhurst (pictured).

Unique habitat

It covers 20,000 hectares of open heathland unequalled in Europe for the complexity and range of fauna and flora, making it very different from HLS schemes awarded to single landowners.

These differences are reflected in the way in which the five HLS objectives (see below) have been interpreted by Natural England for the New Forest scheme. Priority has been given to ensure that grazing by the commoners is sustained in order to preserve the rich and complex habitat that is the New Forest.



  • £750,000 is for use by the Verderers to enable sustainable commoning within the New Forest
  • £750,000 is for use on wetland restoration
  • the balance is for use at the discretion of the Partners Board in other projects that contribute to HLS objectives.

The HLS scheme subsumed the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, which was run successfully since 2003 by a scheme manager from the Verderers Office on behalf of the commoners of the New Forest. This means that the HLS has ensured the vital payments of grazing fees to commoners to sustain the grazing of animals on the New Forest has continued uninterrupted.

The vital activities of the free-roaming animals on the Forest - which preserve and conserve the habitat – can continue.

Partnership Board

The scheme is overseen by a Board drawn from the chief executives of the partner organisations. The Board is supported by a Programme Administrator who operates the whole of the programme on behalf of the Board. For more details about the administration of the scheme, see Meetings and Minutes.

Further information

The five main objectives for the Higher Level Stewardship are:

  • Wildlife conservation
  • Protection of the historic environment
  • Maintenance and enhancement of landscape quality and character
  • Promote public access and understanding
  • Resource protection

The Higher level Stewardship Scheme (HLS) is explained in the latest version of the Natural England (NE) handbook:

Higher Level Stewardship Agreement

File type icon Higher Level Stewardship Agreement (557.87 KB)

Annual reports

annual reports for HLS scheme

File type icon HLS Annual Report 2015 (286.32 KB)

File type icon HLS Annual Report 2014-15 (368.11 KB)

File type icon Annual report 2013-14 (404.02 KB)

File type icon Annual report 2012-13 (823.89 KB)

File type icon Annual report 2011-12 (1.3 MB)