Flagship environment scheme receives further funding boost

England’s largest agri-environment scheme has been extended for a further year supporting vital conservation projects and commoning in the New Forest.

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

Launched in 2010 as a 10-year agreement with Natural England, it is managed by the Verderers in partnership with the New Forest National Park Authority and Forestry England and will have brought £22 million into the Forest.

The scheme helps the New Forest face the nature and climate crisis. Fragile habitats have been conserved and commoning has been supported on a large scale, meaning ponies and cattle can continue to roam the landscape and shape the unique habitats through their grazing.

The funding extension is welcome news as Britain moves out of the EU and leaves its agricultural programme.

The HLS scheme has achieved an exceptional amount since 2010:

Restoring wetlands – Returned 20 miles of streams which were artificially-straightened in Victorian times to drain the Forest back to their natural water courses. This improves the carbon storage in wetlands, prevents flooding and supports the habitats of rare species such as the southern damselfly and curlew. On-going repairs are taking place.

Supporting commoning – Crucial funding and expert advice have been provided to hundreds of commoners to continue the traditional system of land management. It also includes a stallion scheme managing the selection and number of stallions which run on the forest each year. This helps to reduce the number of foals born each year and improves the quality of those foals.

Protecting archaeology – The whole 220 square miles of the National Park has been surveyed, leading to 3,000 archaeological sites being identified and recorded, with an on-going programme to manage them.

Educating the next generation – More than 16,500 children have gained a greater understanding of the New Forest through school visits.

Removing invasive plants – Rhododendron and other non-native species have been removed or reduced across approximately half of the New Forest, helping native plants flourish.

Restoring rare heathland, grassland and woodland – Internationally-protected heath, grassland and woodland areas have been restored.

Lord Manners, Official Verderer of the New Forest, said: ‘The scheme works to increase the New Forest’s resilience in the face of habitat loss and the impacts of climate change. It has been a rare opportunity to conserve fragile habitats and support commoners and the rollover is welcome news as Britain has now left the EU and is working on a new domestic agricultural programme which is scheduled to come into effect in 2024.’

Prof Gavin Parker, Chairman of the New Forest National Park Authority, said: ‘The Government’s post-Brexit policy for support farming and landscape management is based on the principle of rewarding farmers and land managers with public money for “public goods”. The HLS partnership has been significant in delivering public goods for the past 11 years by conserving and enhancing the New Forest’s landscape, biodiversity and historical features. It is helping to support the unique system of New Forest commoning with all the environmental, economic and social benefits that brings.’

Bruce Rothnie, Forestry England’s Deputy Surveyor of the New Forest, said: ‘This funding will help us to continue to restore and enhance habitats, including the Forest’s vital wetland habitats, and their key role in storing carbon. Holding carbon in soil is a natural way of preventing release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Our work here is to enhance the New Forest soils to store more carbon and build a resilient landscape for both people and wildlife.’

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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 regulate 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. It provides practical advice, grounded in science, on how best to safeguard England’s natural wealth for the benefit of everyone. Its remit is to ensure sustainable stewardship of the land and sea so that people and nature can thrive. It is Natural England’s responsibility to see that England’s rich natural environment can adapt and survive intact for future generations to enjoy.

Maria Court, Senior Communications Officer
New Forest National Park Authority
Tel: 01590 646650


Photo credit – Big Wave productions