In 2005, the New Forest became England’s eighth National Park and the first to be designated in this century.
The New Forest is a rich landscape with a strong sense of identity, history and culture within its community. It is the most intact surviving example of a medieval hunting forest and pastoral system in England owing its origin to William the Conquerer who, in 1079, decreed that the area should be set aside as a royal hunting ground.
The diversity of its landscape is unique, and includes woodland, open heathland, river and coastal habitats. Much of its landscape is important for nature conservation with around a half also recognised as being nationally or internationally valuable through SSSI, SAC, SPA or Ramsar status.
Areas of note include its ancient woodlands and coastal reaches which provide a home for many wader and wetland birds as well as extensive recreational opportunities for walkers and horseriders. A remote and seemingly wild landscape, the New Forest can be a landscape of tranquillity and escape from the pressures of development within south east England.
Many of its traditional land management practices endure today on what remains the largest complete common in southern England. There are around 500 to 600 active commoners grazing 6,500-7,000 animals on the Open Forest. Surviving practices include the right to mast, where pigs are turned out into the Open Forest to feast on the acorn harvest in the autumn; and common pasture which allows the grazing of ponies, cattle and donkeys within the Open Forest area, across unfenced roads, and along many of the verges within the Perambulation. These practices have helped shape and maintain the existing pattern of woods, heaths and open, grassy “lawns” which we see today and prevent the onset of scrub which would otherwise encroach upon the area. Oversight of livestock management on the commons remains the responsibility of the New Forest Verderers and Agisters.
As well as its unique historic and cultural heritage, the New Forest also contains a range of archaeological features dating back as far as the Bronze and Iron Ages with around 10% of the known scheduled monument resource of the South East region. It also has the highest proportion of land held within public ownership of any British National Park with nearly half under Crown stewardship through the Forestry Commission while still supporting a human population of around 34,000. Tourism is a major contributor to the local economy with around 30% of jobs supported by an industry worth over £70 million a year.
The area offers many opportunities for quiet enjoyment, contemplation and exploration as well as visitor facilities and organised events. There is open access to more than 30,000 hectares (116 sq miles) on foot and horseback and an extensive network of footpaths, bridleways and cycle paths across the rest of the Park area. Adjacent towns include Ringwood, Lymington, Fordingbridge and New Milton along with Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst within the Forest itself.
The New Forest National Park Authority is a relatively new organisation, having taken up the full range of its powers in 2006. Having developed and published the first management plan and recreation strategy for the National Park it is now taking forward co-ordinated activities with a range of interest parties to conserve and enhance the special qualities of this landscape.
New Forest National Park Authority, Lymington Town Hall, Avenue Road, Lymington, SO41 9ZG
Tel: 01590 646600., Fax: 01590 646666