Great to see the new #keepyourdistance signs up and in action 🙂 

You asked… so we listened!

This has been fantastic a joint initiative, with funding from the Verderers and Forestry England, to help get this important messages across to visitors in the New Forest. There are currently 16 signs being trialed at the moment with potential to purchase another 16 if they prove successful.

Thank you to all involved in making this happen!

#keepyourdistance,#donottouch,#donotfeed,#newforestcode, #protectandpromotecommoning, #realnewforest


New Forest National Park Authority
Forestry England
New Forest District Council
New Forest Young Commoners

Forestry England have published the particulars for another Commoners holding. Upper Holding at Denny Lodge is now open for applications.

A link to the property particulars and application form can be found on FE website using the following link, I have also attached copies for your convenience.



In a new initiative championed by ExxonMobil Fawley, some of their land on the edge of the New Forest, has been rented to to young commoners at a reduced rate.

The full press release can be found by clicking on the link below 👇

ExxonMob 5

Final NF BPS Consultation Jan21


Up until 2005 subsidies were related to agricultural production, in the case of cattle this was paid through Suckler Cow Premium and Beef Special Premium for example, as a headage payment, and was not related to the land of the New Forest. When the Single Payment Scheme was introduced the aim was to de couple payments from production and in the case of the New Forest future payments were to be based on a reference period and related to the number of marking fees paid by a claimant in the 12 months prior to March 2005. From this an allocation of land area was awarded to commoners and payments changed from being based on historic production to a flat rate area payment over eight years. This was the basis for payments to commoners till 2015 when SPS was superseded by the Basic Payment Scheme.

During 2014 and early 2015 we held a series of meetings with Defra and RPA representatives to discuss how BPS would work in the New Forest. We looked at a number of options including establishing a new, more recent reference period. These options were rejected by Defra because they would not reflect contemporary use of the common grazing in future years and that this was a requirement. For that reason BPS payments to commoners have been linked to the number of marking fees paid during the previous calendar year since 2015.

As a result of a legal challenge which argues that the current system has created a headage based payment, which is not allowed, Defra are reviewing the way in which payments will be made until the planned end of BPS in 2027. The method used since 2015 has also resulted in increases to the number of marking fees paid and the number of animals depastured.

RPA Consultation

The RPA are consulting interested parties in the New Forest on the future of the Basic Payment Scheme and the way in which payments are made to commoners for the common land of the New Forest. The CDA hopes to work with the Verderers and other interested parties to form responses which are satisfactory for all. In addition to a CDA response it is also possible or individuals to make their own and they are encouraged to do so as there are important points to be considered. The RPA propose holding information sessions in whatever form the current restrictions will allow and these will be notified to us in due course.

Read the Consultation on the allocation of land on the New Forest common for the Basic Payment Scheme, November 2020.



Fascinating accounts of commoning life have been brought together in a new collection of memories and photographs.

Through Our Ancestors’ Eyes features the stories of 20 families and hundreds of photographs depicting commoning, forestry and agriculture in the Forest.

The project was part of Our Past, Our Future, a £4.4 million Landscape Partnership Scheme for the New Forest supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Raymond Stickland in the 1960s Credit:  ©Rosemary Harding

Led by the New Forest National Park Authority in partnership with 10 other organisations, the scheme has undertaken 21 projects to restore lost habitats, develop skills and inspire a new generation to champion and care for the New Forest.

The archive, which includes audio clips plus transcriptions, was created by the Commoners Defence Association (CDA) with help from the New Forest Heritage Centre. Volunteer Patrick Keane, with the help of Kerry Barrass, spent many hours preparing the records for publication.

You can hear members of well-known commoning families talk about their ancestors and life in the forest, as well as view hundreds of photographs.

Caroline Stride discusses life as a commoner in the New Forest from the late 19th century, including pony management, dairying and the First World War army camp for New Zealand troops at Norley Wood, as well as her three sons, Robert, Andrew and Philip, and their families, who proudly continue the commoning tradition.

Caroline said:

‘Commoning is my life. It’s a reason for going for a walk out in the Forest to find your cows, to find your ponies or find the pigs. From a very early age we were out either feeding the calves or leading a pony round or something. We’ve always had the animals in our lives so it would be very difficult to imagine life without that animal commitment.’

All the photographs, audio files and transcripts are stored at the Christopher Tower Library at the New Forest Heritage Centre in Lyndhurst and are available on the New Forest Knowledge website.

Charlotte Lines, acting CDA Chairman, said:

‘This project gives us a cultural record of commoning, forestry and agriculture within the New Forest; a lasting legacy for future generations to enjoy. The CDA is proud to have been a part of this project and we hope we can continue to add to these cultural records for years to come.’

The Penny family with their dairy cows, Blackwater Farm, Lyndhurst. © Caroline Stride

We’ve all learnt a lot from the coronavirus lockdown. The extent to which people will voluntarily help complete strangers in a time of need has been hugely reassuring when there seems so much division. Lockdown has also been lightened by so many people sharing their experiences of the nature around them; noticing life in their streets, gardens, and outside their windows that had previously gone unseen and unappreciated. Quiet skies and roads have heightened appreciation of the dawn chorus. The ban on travel has shone a light on the real value of local green space, and literally got people out of their cars and back on their feet and bikes for daily exercise.

The lockdown, and its partial relaxation in May, has however also delivered harsh lessons for our landscape. These will require significant policy responses in the years ahead.

Firstly, for a protected landscape it is too reliant on its landlords to protect it.

It is understandable but unfortunate that the National Trust should use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to furlough 80% of its staff. The lockdown means that the charity has lost half of its income. The risk to the charity is very real. Nevertheless, the withdrawal of staff from the New Forest does seem a disastrous false economy.

Less understandable was the decision by Forestry England, a public body, to take advantage of the Job Retention Scheme to furlough frontline staff, including New Forest keepers. It is clear that this decision was taken on financial grounds alone, despite the knowledge that their services would be essential during the lockdown. Contrast this with the actions of the District Council, redeploying staff onto the frontline at a time of need.

This appalling decision by Forestry England has, however, cast light on the worrying situation in relation to the management of the 145 square miles of Crown Land within the New Forest. It is now clear that the recent name change  to “Forestry England” was much more than a rebranding. It reflects the shifting emphasis from land management and towards brand awareness and revenue generation. The focus on income from sales has intensified dramatically in recent years, with declining financial support from government. It is a matter of grave concern that the majority of the New Forest is being placed under this commercial pressure, particularly as the prospects for income are declining. We have seen this pressure over the years, in cutting the number of keepers, increasing reluctance to maintain New Forest infrastructure, and in seeking market income from the Crown cottages instead of housing those upon whom the landscape depends. The commercial deal by which Forestry England formed Camping in the Forest LLP will produce increasing tension between revenue growth and the conservation of the protected habitats affected by the sites. This £6m-a-year Forestry England joint venture views the protection of the New Forest as a “strategic risk” and a threat to its aim of “growing pitch nights”.

The Ministers Mandate sets the terms for the Forestry Commission’s management of the Crown Lands. It very clearly states that issues of financial management must never be allowed to override the first priority of conservation of the landscape. This has so clearly been allowed to wither on the vine.

At the start of the lockdown the CDA warned Forestry England that efforts to protect the landscape, particularly from damaging car parking, would need to step up when the car parks closed. No-one could have imagined that Forestry England would furlough its frontline staff when they were most needed. The damage that has been done is real and lasting. It will cost substantial amounts to repair the grazing. On top of this, parking habits have already formed, and the need to keep 2m apart to limit virus transmission further incentivised illegal parking away from car parks. On the first weekend after the lockdown was eased, with the sun shining, reports streamed in of cars driving onto the SSSI habitats, and of barbecues, litter, out-of-control dogs,  and livestock feeding all over the New Forest. There was almost no sign of enforcement activity.

The National Park Authority also failed to step up to fill the gap. Their few rangers seem to have been kept home, creating a real vacuum of protection. Throughout the lockdown we heard other national parks sending firm messages that the landscape was “closed”. The sense of frustration from local police teams, who tried to step and cover the gaping hole of enforcement, was palpable. They could only prosecute obstruction offences, but tried hard to do what they could to protect the habitats and public safety on the open Forest.

Secondly, the scale of the challenge in the local population is clear.

For years it has been easy to blame tourists for problems in the New Forest, and to direct education efforts towards them. The lockdown revealed a terrifying level of local indifference to this incredible lowland heath

Undamaged grazed verge, Setthorns

landscape. Whilst people across Britain, living in urban flats and estates, found ways to exercise and dog walk around their homes, many in lovely leafy New Forest towns and villages produced excuses for driving into (and onto) the Forest that showed no signs at all of self-awareness or connection with the national situation. Incredibly biodiverse roadside habitats have been completely worn away by their daily parking throughout the lockdown,  badly-controlled dogs have continued to worry livestock, people have carried on feeding livestock, or getting as close as they can for their photos. All done by “locals”. Indeed, many people use “being local” as an excuse for these illegal activities. If people who choose to live in the New Forest area cannot appreciate the rare habitats, species and cultural heritage from which they benefit every day, then there can surely be little hope for educating visitors? People will copy what the local people do. What people see happening is far more powerful than any signage or other messaging.

What can be done?

In the CDA response to the Glover Review of designated landscapes we supported that call for development of National Park Ranger Service. The lockdown has shown that the New Forest cannot rely on current land managers to invest on the scale that is needed, nor to be there at the times they are most needed. Alongside the role of rangers in education about the landscape, the New Forest needs to see the return of the special constable powers held previously by New Forest keepers. Education without enforcement just allows a minority to undermine the education effort. At present the prosecution process is too expensive and time-consuming, and a mechanism for on-the-spot penalties is needed.

Going forward there needs to be a much clearer acknowledgment of the reality that Forestry England has a primary focus on revenue generation. The decline of commercial forestry on a protected landscape means that this will focus on camping activities and recreational licensing. The agency will only undertake conservation activity for which it is directly funded, as has happened through the Verderers Higher Level Stewardship Scheme. It will be vital to ensure that future environmental funding is ring-fenced for the benefit of the New Forest. The risk that it could be syphoned off into corporate projects is high.

Finally, we have all failed on education. Too many “local” people have no understanding of the global importance of the landscape on their doorstep, dependent upon the survival of its system of vocational commoning. We all need to “up our game” on communicating this, generating genuine excitement about the landscape, its species, and its culture. Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund the CDA has developed an Education Toolkit, helping local children connect to the landscape’s commoning system. But we need to step up engagement with their parents and grandparents too, who are their role models.

After the easing of the lockdown the National Park Authority issued a poster which, for the first time, gave clear guidance on behaviour in the New Forest. This was a welcome shift of emphasis. Almost no-one would want to visit a National Park and be told off for inadvertently “breaking the rules”. It is exactly the same when any of us travels to a new place; the fear of getting something wrong is very real. Yet, for years Forestry England and the National Park Authority have shied away from sharing this vital information, in favour of solely positive messages (The most common negative message from Forestry England is when its campsite income is threatened by illegal wild camping). Clarity on the laws to protect the New Forest is a vital part of opening the landscape to a more diverse range of visitors who will appreciate it. Not knowing the rules is a deterrent to access.

These are important lessons from the 2020 lockdown. They come at a crucial time, when we and our partners in the New Forest have a chance to make the future much better than the present. The Government has committed to maintaining the same level of spending as the Common Agricultural Policy in the years immediately after leaving the European Union. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to ensure that the New Forest really is a protected landscape; in name and in practice.


Tony Hockley

Chair, New Forest Commoners Defence Association

18th May 2020


UPDATE: Following this blog posting Forestry England decided to bring its keepers and other operational staff back from the furlough funded by the government Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, and the National Park Authority decided to allow its small team of rangers to return to the work of public engagement in the New Forest.



This week the Agriculture Bill gave MPs their first taste of online voting for a major piece of legislation on 13th May. It sailed through, despite much debate over a future trade agreement with America, and very little debate on everything else. The passage of the Bill through its remaining stages marks an important point of change for environmental policy. For the New Forest what mattered most was what was not said. In particular, there was no indication that ministers would concede to calls to delay the transition to a new environmental support system of: “public money for public goods”.

Since February the CDA has been lobbying ministers to end the uncertainty and to push on with the reforms, as Britain leaves the Common Agricultural Policy. In particular the CDA has raised concern that seven years of payments will depend upon a Reference Period that ministers have yet to set. For the New Forest this creates an unhelpful incentive for anyone able to claim against the New Forest allocation of funding to pay the Verderers’ £24 marking fee for as many animals as possible, irrespective of whether they contribute to the grazing of the landscape. The more this is done, the less will be available for each animal that does maintain the grazing. Thankfully, we’ve benefitted from the backing of the Verderers and many other partner organisations, as well as the local MPs in our approaches to government. In a response to Julian Lewis MP on 11th May the farming minister Victoria Prentice gave an assurance that:

“We understand the importance of carefully deciding on this reference period and of communicating it to the industry in good time”.

She also added a note of satisfaction on the current condition of the grazed New Forest following the increase in cattle grazing, which was particularly welcome after several years of repeated flood and drought conditions. She said:

“Natural England recently recommended that the Environmental Stewardship Higher Level agreement with the Verderers should be extended by one year as the agreement was delivering its objectives and the Sites of Special Scientific Interest within the forest were being managed in a way that improved their condition. We are not aware of damage to landscape due to increased numbers of de-pastured cattle”.

We can only hope that they really mean this, even though the consultation on the future environmental scheme has been paused due to the lockdown.

The easing of the lockdown and the ongoing passage of the Bill will, hopefully, signal the resumption of progress on the transition to a better system of support for our landscape. The New Forest already has a decade of experience in delivering the country’s largest agricultural-environment scheme, the Verderers HLS. It is by no means perfect, still having to fit rules made in Brussels, but it is a valuable prototype for investment tailored to the needs of the New Forest with its rare mosaic of connected habitats; supporting high standards of commoning, investing in the restoration of our precious heathlands and wetlands, and practical work to monitor and support the multiple rare species that survive in this traditionally-grazed and managed lowland landscape. Under the European rules such schemes must be linked to the landholding, meaning that the Crown Lands of the New Forest, the National Trust and County Council commons, etc. must each have their own, different scheme.

The new system could allow such work to take place by partnership across the whole of the New Forest; one scheme for all of the New Forest and focused on outcomes. It is both exciting and frustrating to have this vision in sight, but to be so slow in taking the important first step away from the old. A declaration on the transition payments Reference Period would be a small step, but it would help us better understand the underlying health or vulnerability of cattle commoning (vital to New Forest ecology but increasingly difficult) and plan for the future.

The lockdown has shown how much more work is needed to protect this landscape, and to help people understand it better. With keepers and rangers furloughed, and other staff kept home, the protection of the New Forest fell far short of what it needs and deserves. We would hope that a future support system would help deliver these vital tasks. We and are partners will need to keep up our pressure to press on with a 2021 start, and a firm declaration of the Reference Period as a matter of urgency. We’ll need to keep knocking on doors in Westminster, speaking up for this precious but too easily forgotten landscape.



7TH MAY 2020




The organisation representing the 700 people whose animals maintain the historic practice of New Forest grazing has called on Forestry England to re-open car parks in the New Forest.

The Commoners Defence Association had previously supported the closures, to reinforce the “Stay Home” lockdown message. Its Chairman, Tony Hockley, has written to Forestry England (attached) which manages the 145sq.m of Crown Lands in the New Forest saying that the level of harm being done by parking on verges and in gateways is “substantial” and “worsening rapidly”.

Mr Hockley pointed out that the commoners had never imagined that Forestry England, which already receives £50m a year from the Government, would use the Job Retention Scheme to furlough essential New Forest keepers. He said:

“It now feels as if Forestry England has locked the gates and walked away”. He added: “A decade of work to protect and restore precious verge habitats … is being undone in the space of a few weeks”.

Speaking about the situation Mr Hockley said:

“We have all failed to explain the natural value of New Forest verges, as precious habitat and as grazing for the livestock maintaining them. All over the country people have made huge sacrifices in their daily habits to tackle coronavirus. Sadly, a sizeable local minority have not, and insist on driving into the New Forest, damaging the protected habitats and blocking emergency gates. Ahead of another holiday weekend we must not allow this harm to continue. For the time being the message is still to “stay home”, but the lasting damage done from closed car parks far outweighs any perceptible benefit”


The letter to Forestry England


6th May 2020

 Commoners supported the decision to close New Forest car parks, to reinforce the “Stay Home, Save Lives” message. In my 24th March email to you I also said that all partners would need to step up our work to prevent parking on the grazed verges if the car parks are closed.

In light of what has happened since then our Association is now calling for the immediate re-opening of car parks on the Crown Lands of the New Forest. The harm being done to the SSSI habitats is substantial, with people parking in the same places day after day. Commoners, agisters and emergency services have also faced serious difficulties due to the number of gateways blocked by parked cars. This puts our animals, all Forest users, and the designated habitats at risk.

The situation is worsening rapidly, partly due to weather, but for two other reasons:

Firstly, the guidelines issued by the College of Policing on 16th April have been widely reinterpreted as negating the edict to stay local; to exercise at or from home. Secondly, we had never imagined that Forestry England would furlough operational staff under the government Job Retention Scheme. As we understand it, this includes the New Forest keepers, whose work is vital to the management of the Crown Lands; it always has been and always will be.

It now feels as if Forestry England has simply locked the gates and walked away. The Minister’s Mandate for the management of the Crown Lands requires that conservation is prioritised over corporate finances. The decision to take advantage of the Job Retention Scheme seems to be in direct conflict with this clear duty. The local police have been doing as much as they can, but it is the Forestry Commission that is supported by the Exchequer to conserve the New Forest.

A decade of work to protect and restore precious verge habitats, funded by the Verderers HLS, is being undone in the space of a few weeks. We are deeply concerned that new parking habits are being formed and new informal lay-bys are developing in verges throughout the Crown Lands. This has enhanced the need for enforcement and education activity. This work needs to start now, and it is certainly not the time to walk away from these important responsibilities to a protected landscape.

Wilverley Plain

Deerleap Lane, Longdown 6 May 2020

Verge erosion, Setthorns Inclosure 6 May 2020

The CDA committee has decided in light of the COVID-19 pandemic to recommend to the Verderers that the number of stallions selected and turned out in 2020 is cut to just 10, the record low, for six weeks.

This has been a very difficult decision, but we can have no idea of the state of the economy in 2021, and whether the demand for foals will return to the good levels experienced in 2019. The committee is very aware that the already low number of foals sired on the Forest due to the Stallion Scheme means that many of us have not benefitted from a filly foal for several years, and they are also very difficult to find for purchase. This is a considerable concern, for the commoners concerned, for their mares, and for the Forest generally. Every one of our individual herds matters.

But it was the commoners who called for a stallion scheme around 20 years ago when up to 100 stallions grazed the Forest year round. Our intention was to boost the quality and reduce the quantity of foals. As a result of tight control the purebred New Forest Pony has become a rare breed, but the quality of foals sold at Beaulieu Road has seen many go on to achieve great things in their careers elsewhere. The scheme has been hugely successful, and we can all be proud of what has been achieved. We cannot jeopardise this hard-won reputation for quality and high welfare standards, so in such extraordinary and uncertain times we have once again taken the route that prioritises these concerns, whilst continuing to ensure that some commoners will have some foals next year.

The CDA Chair has recorded a short video explaining the decision:


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