A reader from afar (if Poland can be called ‘afar’ in our travel-shrunken world) has told me he looks forward to seeing more photographs of the New Forest. Though an Englishman (a Lincolnshire ‘yellowbelly’, as was my grandfather), Michael has never seen the Forest. So I’ve put together an album of Forest snapshots for him and the rest of you. Not the most coherent of albums in either theme or colour rendering, I’m afraid, but for what it’s worth, it’s here: Stephen’s New Forest album
A little background
The New Forest is an area of central southern England covering some 150 square miles. The word ‘forest’ in this context does not mean an area covered by trees but an area of land reserved by law as a royal hunting ground. It was ‘created’ by King William I in about the year 1079. Its creation was carried out at the expense of a number of small settlements and farms, so it was new as a single defined area. Surprisingly, the ‘New’ label has survived the passage of over 900 years.
When the New Forest was created, it was subject to strict laws to protect the wildlife of the area – both the animals themselves and the vegetation on which they fed. These laws ensured a plentiful supply of fresh meat for the king, as well as providing fine sporting opportunities for him and his noblemen.
The laws were designed to prevent the local peasants (commoners) from interfering with the wild animals and their feeding. Commoners were not allowed to fence their properties to keep their own animals in, because fences might impede the movement of wild deer and boar. In return, commoners were given the right to graze their own animals in the Forest.
Today, the New Forest is an area of great natural beauty, recently designated a National Park. It is enjoyed for recreation by millions every year.
Newcomers to ‘the Forest’ (as it is invariably known locally) are often surprised by its make-up, having expected endless square miles of trees. In reality about half the forest is open, either heathland or grassy spaces. The grass remains short through the cropping of animals, mainly ponies. These ponies are not wild, as is often thought. They all belong to people who enjoy grazing rights in the Forest. They are rounded up every autumn for health checks and sale.
Pigs are also grazed free in the Forest by commoners – ‘put out to pannage’ every autumn to feed on the acorns that lie on the ground in vast numbers.