Forest Today Menu
Use the sub-menu below for selecting aspects of the Forest Today
A Commoner is a person who occupies land to which Common Rights in the New Forest are attached. A Right of Common is authority for the occupier of a plot of land (to which Rights are attached), to take specified material or products from somebody else's land. In the context of the New Forest, the principal product is grazing and the owner of the land is the Crown. Land with Common Rights is not confined to the perambulation of the Forest; many "holdings" are in villages on the periphery of the Forest.
Common of Pasture
Rights of Common of Pasture are attributed to land. It permits depasturing of "commonable" animals on 45,000 acres of Open Forest. Commonable animals are ponies, horned cattle and donkeys. Goats are barred from the Open Forest. By historic practice, chicken and geese may wander in the Forest, but this is not a Common Right.
Those depasturing animals must comply with Verderers' Bye-Laws:
About 5,000 commonable animals are turned out. The ratio of ponies to cattle is 3:2. Around 130 stallions are turned out in the breeding season. About 500 Commoners use the Right. There is no limit to the number of animals that may be depastured.
...But tho the form of the New-forest horse is seldom beautiful; yet as the ornament of a forest scene he is very picturesque. The horse, in his natural state, rough with all his mane about him, and his tail waving in the wind, as he feeds, is always beautiful; but particularly in so wild a scene as this, which he graces exceedingly."
(William Gilpin, 1791)
Common of Mast
Common of Mast is the right to turn out pigs in the Forest during the Pannage season. The Pannage season is a period of not less than 60 days, fixed by the Forestry Commission after consultation with the Verderers. Before the 1964 New Forest Act, the Pannage season was fixed at 25 Sep-22 Nov.
Pannage is an ancient practice to fatten pigs before slaughter and salting for the winter. It was additionally useful in the Forest - the pigs turned out ate green acorns and beech mast that are poisonous to cattle and ponies (for example, in 1968, 80 ponies and 40 cattle died eating acorns). The 3,500 acres of Adjacent Commons recently brought within the perambulation are not subject to Pannage dates.
In the 19th century, up to 5,000-6,000 pigs were turned out; currently the numbers are in hundreds - it is a declining Right. Commoners may also turn out breeding sows out all year providing they return to the Commoner's holding at night, and are not a nuisance. This is not a true Right, it is an established practice.
Right of Turbary
This Right allows the Commoner to cut turf for fuel; turves were once cut in tens of thousands each year. Turves were 2' by 1'; to preserve grazing and reduce environmental damage, for every turf cut, two were left. A ticket to cut turf was issued by the Forestry Commission. In 1876, 80 people cut turf, but the Right is no longer practised. The Rights belong to the chimney and hearth of a property, not the land.
Right of Fuelwood (Estovers)
This is the Right to cut wood for fuel. The wood must be burned in the house and the Right applies to the hearth, not land.
The Right is now confined to a few Commoners; most have sold their Rights to the Forestry Commission. The Forestry Commission stacks the wood close to holdings in long stacks. The stacks are labelled into "cords"; a cord is a stack of wood in 4 foot lengths, 4 feet high and 8 feet long. In 1996, 99 properties had allocations totalling 221 cords. The Right is controlled by the Forestry Commission, to inhibit plunder of the Ancient & Ornamental woodland.
Anyone living in a property built before 1850 within the perambulation can pick fallen twigs and branches, providing a vehicle is not required to transport them.
Right of Common of Marl
Marl is a lime-rich clay used to fertilise land; it was also be used for building. The Right of Common of Marl was to dig marl from one of the 23 pits mentioned in the Register of Claims. It is not now exercised; modern fertilisers have made the practice unnecessary and exercise of the Right died out last century. It was confined geologically to the south of the Forest.
Common of Pasture of Sheep
There are Rights to depasture sheep at very few holdings, principally at Godshill and Beaulieu - lands formerly belonging to monastic properties. Exercise of the sheep Rights is uncommon; in the early 1990's 100 sheep were depastured at Godshill for the first time this century - they are now gone. Sheep are depastured on the former Adjacent Commons, principally Penn Common.
Customs (not Rights of Common)
Cutting fern: Fern (bracken) is cut from the end of August. It was originally cut in squares by scythe, but is now "swiped" by machine. Sixty bundles (pooks) made one wagon load. It was a frequent practice until the 1940's and the tracks of the wagons can still be traced on the ground. The bracken had the same utility as straw. It is still cut by a few now as bedding for ponies, but it is principally cut to stop the fronds smothering sweet grass.
Bees: Hives are placed July-September; a fee is payable to Forestry Commission. Old "Bee Gardens" have been described in the Forest - small circular enclosures where hives were placed. Names of locations in the Forest testify to the practice - Hive Garn Bottom, King's Garn Gutter.
Gorse (furze) and holly: They were cut to provide browse in the winter for the ponies and deer. Deer won't eat gorse, but they find cut holly palatable. I have never seen cut gorse, but holly trees are still pollarded to provide winter browse.
"Shade......originally signified nothing but a shadow, and then the place where the shadow rests..........applied, as in the New Forest, to bare spots without a tree, deriving their coolness either from the breeze or the water."
(John Wise, 1895)