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Letters: New Forest commoning is a round-the-clock commitment



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SIR – Recent letters have revealed some misunderstanding of how the New Forest grazed landscape is managed, and how the commoning system upon which it depends works in practice.

Commoning is a vocational activity. Commoners have jobs, and have always used their income to subsidise their commitment to the Forest. But subsidy is essential for the practice to survive within our country’s most expensive national park.

Every commoner must have access to land that they can use to care for all of their animals. Subsidies have allowed them to rent, buy and improve this land, within a very expensive market. They also need somewhere to live nearby, have trailers and towing vehicles, winter fodder, and must be prepared for veterinary costs. This is a substantial financial commitment.

We are also committed to keeping our animals safe and healthy. The pure-bred New Forest pony is now a rare breed and worth protecting. Thankfully, the number of animals involved in accidents has been halved over the past 20 years, but this hasn’t stopped us from working to do even better.

Most of the reflective pony collars are fitted in the autumn round-ups. However, the success of round-ups varies, and collars are purposely designed to detach if they catch. We continue to try new tactics and are always open to ideas.

In the end, however, the animals do have right of way, and their extensive grazing is essential to everything that has kept this such a special, open and unspoilt landscape. A few extra minutes on a commute across the Forest is a very small price to pay for all the benefits the grazed New Forest delivers.

Heathland burning is required by Natural England in order to maintain the New Forest’s exceptional habitats, by restoring "a balanced range of dwarf shrub age classes”. Grazing alone is insufficient to fully achieve this. This traditional practice is essential for the many rare species that survive here, but which have died out elsewhere.

The same agreement with Natural England also demands an increase in the proportion of cattle grazing the New Forest, so that ponies and cattle each constitute at least 25% of the total herd.

Financial support has been crucial to achieving this, given the additional costs and complexities associated with keeping cattle. The full Higher Level Stewardship agreement is publicly available on both the verderers' website and our own www.realnewforest.org

Finally, there seems to be some confusion over common rights. These are attached to the “occupation” of land with rights, which can be owned, rented, or shared. If homes are built on land with rights, or fields divided, each occupant will have Forest rights.

Our concern to try to keep generations of commoners in commoning is because our surveys have shown that newcomers who occupy land with rights are least likely to sustain the commitment for more than a few years and least likely to keep cattle.

There is a lot more to it than meets the eye, and it is a 24/7 responsibility 365 days a year. Commoners’ defence of this landscape has kept it special over centuries, so that it is now designated and protected.

I can assure you that we are part of an exceptional local partnership determined to keep it special for future generations.

Tony Hockley,

Chair of the New Forest Commoners Defence Association,

Lymington



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