Environmental scheme extended to protect New Forest

England’s largest agri-environment scheme has been extended for another year, meaning important conservation projects and the unique commoning system which shapes the New Forest can continue into the future.

The Verderers of the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme helps to protect the New Forest National Park’s internationally-important wildlife and habitats.

Launched in 2010 as a 10-year agreement with Natural England, it’s managed by the Verderers in partnership with the New Forest National Park Authority and Forestry England.

The scheme works to increase the New Forest’s resilience in the face of habitat loss and the impacts of the climate crisis. It has been a rare opportunity to conserve fragile habitats and support commoners on such a large scale, and the rollover is welcome news as Britain moves out of the EU and works on a domestic agricultural programme.

The HLS scheme has achieved an exceptional amount since 2010:

Wetland restoration – 20 miles of artificially-straightened drainage channels have been returned to their natural courses. The work, which won the UK River Prize in 2019, helps to improve the carbon storage in wetlands, prevent flooding and support the habitats of rare species such as the southern damselfly and curlew.

Commoning – crucial funding and expert advice have been provided to hundreds of commoners to continue the traditional system of land management – turning ponies and cattle onto the New Forest.

Archaeology – Following a laser scanning survey of the whole National Park, 3,000 archaeology sites have been identified, keeping them recorded and preserved forever.

Education – More than 14,000 children have gained a greater understanding of the New Forest through school visits.

Habitat management – Invasive rhododendron and other non-native species have been removed or reduced across approximately half of the New Forest, helping native plants flourish.

Heathland restoration – 865 hectares of heath and grassland (the equivalent of 1,384 football pitches) have been restored through measures such as tree felling and bracken harvesting – to support internationally-protected habitats.

Lord Manners, Official Verderer of the New Forest, said: ‘The Verderers are delighted to announce that the Rural Payment Agency has extended the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship Scheme for a further 12 months.

‘The partner organisations will now carry on with their work of delivering vital environmental benefits to the New Forest. This includes supporting commoning through the Verderers’ Grazing Scheme, thereby ensuring that the free-roaming stock continues to help maintain the New Forest’s rare and internationally-important mosaic of habitats.’

Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre, Chairman of the New Forest National Park Authority, said: ‘This announcement is such good news and will allow the £20million invested in the Forest so far under the HLS in conservation projects over the last 10 years to continue.

‘The HLS scheme is a perfect example of public money being given in return for public goods, which is at the heart of Government’s policy for all future support for farming and landscape management.’

Bruce Rothnie, Forestry England’s Deputy Surveyor of the New Forest, said: ‘The New Forest is a really critical conservation area, home to landscapes and wildlife which have long since disappeared from many other parts of England. It is really encouraging to see this recognised by continued investment in this scheme which brings together the efforts of all forest organisations. Forestry England is excited to continue to play its part in delivering further habitat enhancement to this precious landscape.’

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Notes to editors

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 wellbeing of local communities within the National Park.

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

Forestry England manages and cares for the nation’s 1,500 woods and forests, with over 230 million visits per year. As England’s largest land manager, we shape landscapes and are enhancing forests for people to enjoy, wildlife to flourish and businesses to grow. For more information visit Forestry England is an agency of the Forestry Commission.

Natural England is the Government’s advisor on the natural environment. Established in 2006, its work focuses on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.