Living in the New Forest, in a house, not as a rustic you understand, feels like the perfect home to me. Since I wasn’t born here, I will never take it for granted, and still enjoy the trees and the open forest, all the ponies, and other animals that live here. It comes as a surprise to me that many of the people who live here, and certainly those that pass through on their way to work, don’t understand how the Forest works, that the ponies, and the cattle, are all owned by someone, and essential to the conservation of one of the last few large areas of common land in the country; without them the Forest would have to be managed entirely mechanically.
The number of ponies varies from year to year and during the year as foals are born and some of them eventually sold. The New Forest Commoners who own the ponies, have done more than any other breeders of semi-feral native ponies to limit the number of foals by careful management, ensuring a healthier market for them, and preserving the rare bloodlines. This year only fifteen stallions, all inspected and judged for their quality and their blood lines, were turned out for just one month. Given that there are almost 500 Commoners, the agreement of this policy is some feat. Each stallion is turned out in a designated area, although he might migrate, and is limited to three years in the same area to ensure that he doesn’t cover his own offspring. The rest of the time, the stallions are kept at the owner’s own property or together in a large area provided through the auspices of the Verderers Office.
The Commoners acquire the right to de-pasture their animals through their property rather than in their own right, and pay £22 per animal turned out. The vast majority of ponies on the Forest are mares, with some geldings, and young colts which have to be gelded or removed as they reach maturity. The ponies can roam the entire Forest with no limits although they tend to remain within a ‘haunt’ of about two miles. Whilst each Commoner is responsible for the welfare of their own animals this is overseen by four Agisters, and a Head Agister, all employed by the Verderers of the New Forest. The Verderers are a body of ten people, half of which are selected by organisations such as the Forestry Commission, and half elected by the Commoners. They are responsible for ‘protecting the green’ as their name implies, a role which has changed from guardianship of the king’s hunting ground, to protecting the integrity of the Forest. They set by-laws and work with a myriad of organisations which have a vested interest in the Forest. They hold a court at which criminal proceedings no longer take place but instead hear presentments from anyone who wishes on subjects as diverse as the restructuring of old water courses or the admissibility of kite surfing.
Our guest blogger is Sarah Weston, to learn more about her, or to order one of her brilliant books, please visit her website.
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