Commoners of the New Forest are people who occupy property to which attaches one or more rights over the forest and/or adjacent commons.
There are six registered Common Rights:
- Pasture – Grazing ponies, cattle and donkeys on the Forest
- Sheep – Grazing sheep on the Forest
- Mast – Turning pigs out on the Forest in the Autumn to feed on beech mast and acorns, known as the ‘pannage season’
- Marl – Taking clay to fertilize agricultural land (no longer exercised)
- Estovers – Gathering firewood
- Turbary – Cutting turfs for fuel (no longer exercised).
Commoning is important for the environment. The ponies, cattle and deer have shaped the Forest as we see it today. Their browsing and grazing has created the look of the Open Forest lawns and trees. They suppress the brambles, gorse and other coarse vegetation. The stock is owned by commoners (people who occupy land benefitting from common rights), but many animals are semi-wild and rarely handled.
Commoning, although a way of life to many, is subsistence farming and has seldom provided a total income for commoners. Today, due to the lack of affordability of back-up grazing land and housing close to the forest, along with the poor return on pony sales, there are fewer new or young commoners.
Government bodies have recognised the essential role the Forest’s stock plays in maintaining the landscape and wildlife of the forest and as such part of the Higher Level Stewardship scheme encourages and supports commoning. This is delivered through the Verderers Grazing Scheme.