Environmental scheme makes New Forest fit for the future

A multi-million pound environmental scheme continues to benefit the New Forest.

Restoring lost grazing lawns, re-introducing meanders to artificially-straightened rivers, supporting commoners, and saving archaeological sites are just some of the ways in which the scheme is helping.

The New Forest Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) Scheme funds projects to support the ancient system of commoning – which sees ponies, cattle, pigs and sheep roaming free to graze the landscape – and conserve the fragile habitats of the New Forest.

The scheme’s Annual General Meeting took place recently in the Verderers Court, the ancient hall in Lyndhurst where New Forest governance decisions are made. The capacity audience heard from local experts how the UK’s largest agri-environment scheme has made a noticeable difference in the Forest over the last year.

The 10-year agreement with Natural England is worth £19m and is held by the Verderers of the New Forest. The scheme is managed by them in partnership with the Forestry Commission and the New Forest National Park Authority, with advice from the Commoners Defence Association.

Highlights from the last year include:

  • More than 250 commoners received advice or training to allow them to continue their ancient tradition
  • Over 500 hectares (460 football pitches) of wetland restoration work took place across 12 sites. Artificially straightened streams are restored to their natural meanders to reduce erosion and flood risk, while improving internationally important habitats and grazing for commoners’ livestock.
  • 2,032 hectares (1,880 football pitches) surveyed to record and protect archaeological features
  • Nearly 3,000 schoolchildren visited the New Forest to learn about the area last year, ranging from river and habitat studies to the impacts of tourism.
  • Invasive non-native rhododendron was cleared from 56 hectares as well as 24 hectares of ‘lost lawns’ being revitalised for livestock through vegetation clearance.

In his Annual Report, the Official Verderer Dominic May told the gathering: ‘Through the HLS, we are funding projects to conserve or improve the ecology and environment of the New Forest Crown Lands. This money enables us to turn the clock back to remove previous man-made interventions and improve grazing for the benefit of the forest stock, which are the architects of our beautiful New Forest landscape.

‘The projects within this scheme have shown once again this year why the Verderers’ HLS Scheme is such an important funding stream; it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reverse the ratchet effect of man’s effect on the common land. We must therefore continue to use this money for the maximum benefit of our beautiful, unique, working New Forest.’

The Verderers manage grazing-related projects to support the ancient practice of commoning; the Forestry Commission manages the wetland and habitat restoration projects; and the National Park Authority manages projects to protect archaeological features, promote education and access, and bird surveys.

To find out more about the HLS scheme visit


Photo editor

Board members, staff and volunteers from the New Forest HLS Scheme’s annual general meeting.

Notes to Editors

1. The role of the Verderers of the New Forest is to protect and administer the New Forest’s unique agricultural commoning practices; to conserve its traditional landscape, wildlife and aesthetic character, including its flora and fauna, peacefulness, natural beauty and cultural heritage;  and to safeguard a viable future for commoning.

2. The Forestry Commission is the government department responsible for forestry in Great Britain. It supports woodland owners with grants; tree felling licences, regulation and advice; promotes the benefits of forests and forestry; and advises Government on forestry policy. It manages more than a million hectares (2.5 million acres) of national forest land for public benefits such as sustainable timber production, public recreation, nature conservation, and rural and community development. For more information, visit

3. Natural England is the government’s advisor on the natural environment. Established in 2006 our work is focused on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.

4. The Environmental Stewardship Schemes, of which HLS is one strand, are administered by Natural England, on behalf of Defra, and funds farmers and land managers throughout England to deliver effective environmental management on their land.

  • The objectives of Environmental Stewardship are to:
  • Maintain and enhance landscape quality and character
  • Protect the historic environment and natural resources
  • Conserve biodiversity.
  • Promote public access and understanding of the countryside

5. The New Forest National Park Authority works with partners to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the National Park and to promote opportunities for understanding and enjoyment of its special qualities. It also has a duty to foster the social and economic well-being of local communities within the Park.

Media Contact

Matt Stroud, Engagement and Interpretation Officer
New Forest HLS Scheme
01590 646650