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‘Failing’ National Trust urged to engage with commoners

THE National Trust has been slammed for “failing in its stewardship” of the four New Forest commons which it owns and manages.

The charity, which is responsible for the New Forest northern commons at Bramshaw, Hale Purlieu, Rockford and High Town, was also accused of failing to engage with commoners, during a meeting of the Verderers Court.

In a presentment, Commoners Defence Association chair Andrew Parry-Norton declared: “The New Forest is renowned for its rare and endangered species; many plants, birds and animals are in serious decline. Probably the rarest in the Forest is the National Trust. Sightings have become extremely infrequent since lockdown.”

Rockford Common is one of four run by the National Trust. Above left, Andrew Parry-Norton
Rockford Common is one of four run by the National Trust. Above left, Andrew Parry-Norton

The meeting heard claims that, as one of the larger land owners in the Forest, the National Trust’s “lack of engagement at all levels” is having a detrimental effect on the Forest and the commoning community.

Mr Parry-Norton continued: “The National Trust no longer has a dedicated team to manage their land holdings, staff have left and are not replaced. Contact with a warden is virtually impossible.”

The meeting heard that the trust is not currently part of a Countryside Stewardship and that no management plan for the commons has been in place since the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme ended in 2020.

Chair of the Commoners Defence Association, Andrew Parry Norton
Chair of the Commoners Defence Association, Andrew Parry Norton

“We, the CDA, understand that a management plan is not required by law but as a public charity that should be a bare minimum,” said Mr Parry-Norton. “The law does require that SSSIs are maintained and improved, they are not allowed to fall into unfavourable conditions – a management plan is critical to this obligation.”

The court heard the verderers should take a “very strong stance” with the National Trust, and remind the charity of its obligations to the commons and the commoners.

Mr Parry-Norton concluded that the verderers must insist the National Trust engages in talks regarding potential future schemes and takes proper care of the commons.

A spokesperson for the National Trust said: “We take our responsibilities to manage our New Forest landholdings and habitats very seriously. Whilst we have no official arrangement in place, we remain subject to the same conservation principles as under the previous Higher Level Stewardship scheme, and our management practices therefore remain the same.

“We have also committed to providing the same level of financial support that we have done for over 10 years.”

The spokesperson added that NT rangers are hard at work supporting local communities through regular communication.

“This year we’ve met with multiple parish councils and representatives from partnership organisations.

“We also have a presence on several New Forest groups. This includes the Forest Farming Group which recently commissioned a feasibility study into the future of a Countryside Stewardship agreement over Forestry England and National Trust commons – a discussion to which we actively contributed.

“We have regular contact with the verderers and we’ve offered to attend their meetings.

“Good communication with our New Forest partners and other stakeholders is vital, and we will continue to prioritise our time and resources to deliver this alongside protecting the commons and wildlife in our care.”

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