© 2018 Sally Fear

Encouraging and supporting young commoners in their commitment to the New Forest must be one of the highest priorities for everyone who cares about the survival of this special place. The popularity of the area, based on grazing by commoners’ animals, also risks its decline. Housing and land to rent are becoming increasingly scarce, and property prices now outstrip local incomes by 15 times on average, even before accounting for the lower level of incomes from rural trades. A huge amount is being achieved through partnership to support young commoners, whether through housing schemes, planning protection for back-up grazing land (required when animals need to be taken off the Forest), or support with the costs of training, land management etc. The Commoners Defence Association has a long record of fully involving its younger members in its work, whether this is practical tasks on the Forest or within its committee and policy work.

©️ Andrew Kitcher

©️ Andrew Kitcher

It is also vital that young commoners are supported as a group, able to help and encourage each other, to value and enjoy fitting commoning activities around normal, busy young lives. A Young Commoners Group was formed in 2007 to help fulfil this need –  to ensure that commoning remains attractive and fun, as well as viable for young people, regardless of whether they are new to commoning or have a long family history of commitment to the Forest.

Young and new commoners have been a priority within recent financial support schemes for commoning. Alongside access to the support available to all commoners the Verderers Higher Level Stewardship Scheme (HLS) has since 2012 been providing several thousand pounds every year for young commoners to receive essential training for their trailer-towing test. Importantly, the HLS has also provided employment opportunities within the New Forest because it supports the Forestry Commission (and other landowners) to undertake environmental land management, This has kept jobs in the New Forest as commercial forestry has reduced. This decline of forestry has also freed up cottages and land rentals on the Crown Land, which the government has prioritised since the 1990s for rental to commoners at affordable rents. These have provided a real lifeline to young commoners.

Since 2015 the Heritage Lottery funded “Our Past Our Future” landscape partnership has also provided funding for training in rural skills, direct employment and training through an Apprentice Ranger scheme, and introduced a formal mentoring system for experienced commoners to assist newcomers. The CDA will be pressing for similar support in any future environmental land management schemes.

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