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Land deal to help youngsters continue commoning in the New Forest

Commoning ponies owned by Daniel Drodge
Commoning ponies owned by Daniel Drodge

YOUNG people are being helped to continue the ancient practice of commoning through subsidised grazing land in a partnership between Forest organisations and Fawley oil refinery.

Commoners have been putting out animals for hundreds of years but the increasing costs of back-up land needed to support animals during the winter has been identified as a barrier to young people establishing themselves.

Working with the national park authority, the Commoners’ Defence Association (CDA) and a New Forest Land Advice Service, ExxonMobil at Fawley identified a 10-acre site called Hardley Halt and installed new stock fencing, a holding pen and a mobile water tank.

Young commoners were invited to apply to lease the land at a reduced rate.

The first two selected to benefit from the scheme were Daniel Drodge and Louise England, with further sites set to be made available to other applicants.

Born into a commoning family, Daniel (27) currently has a herd of 12 Forest-run New Forest ponies, which he hopes to extend over time.

He said: “I have loved commoning from the very beginning, following in the footsteps of my father and grandfather. I remember going out onto the forest checking on the ponies from a very young age.”

Meanwhile Louise England and her partner Dan Wilding were gifted their first pony in 2014 and now have four Forest-run mares. But they were unwilling to breed too many animals without a secure holding during the winter.

Louise said: “I’m extremely grateful to be able to use this facility, as it gives us the comfort that we have somewhere secure to bring our younger ponies home to winter, or mares and foals home to wean.”

Two further sites are currently being prepared for fellow young commoners Daisy Slocombe and Matt Pooley, who were shortlisted in the original application process.

The scheme was launched after a review of land owned by ExxonMobil at Fawley. Refinery manager Simon Downing made contact with the CDA to explore ways to develop the areas outside the operational footprint to support grazing.

New Forest Land Advice Service manager Julie Melin-Stubbs, said: “There is still more land to be offered over the coming years as we get the grazing infrastructure installed so, in time, more commoners will benefit from this initiative.”

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