Most of today’s commoners continue the traditions and practices of their ancestors. Large families work together to manage their stock on the Forest. In order to be a practicing commoner a person needs to own or rent land with common rights attached.
What are the Common Rights?
There are six registered rights:
Pasture - Grazing ponies, cattle and donkeys on the Forest
Sheep - Grazing sheep on the Forest
Mast - Turning pigs out on the Forest in the Autumn to feed on Beech mast and acorns, known as the pannage season
Marl - Taking clay to fertilize agricultural land Estovers Gathering firewood
Turbary - Cutting turves for fuel (no longer in use)
What are commoners stock?
Commoners animals are collectively known as stock. These include ponies, cattle, donkeys, pigs and sheep. Commoners turn out about 7000 animals in total on to the Forest, although many of these will come off of the Forest on to the commoners holding at some point during the year.
Why is commoning important?
Commoning is vital for the maintenance of the open Forest and for conserving the special habitats for rare and endangered species. Many visitors come to see the iconic New Forest Ponies which have often been described as the architects of the New Forest. Commoning is not a hobby it is a way of life. Today the New Forest still remains a working environment with commoners managing their animals every day of the year. Commoners of today devote much of their spare time to commoning to keep the tradition alive. Commoning has never been a full time job, most commoners earn their living in a variety of ways, some work in related jobs including farming and forestry whilst others have jobs unrelated to the Forest. Without this dedication from the commoners the New Forest and commoning as we know it would disappear.
How did commoning begin?
Commoning within the New Forest probably dates from Anglo-Saxon times. When William the Conqueror established the New Forest as a hunting forest in about 1079 he laid down a set of Forest laws to protect the deer and other animals. This meant that animal keepers in the New Forest were no longer able to enclose areas of land in the New Forest. In order to satisfy the local people commoning in the New Forest was formally recognised and set in law. Officers were appointed by the Crown to ensure Forest Law was obeyed and courts were established to oversee administration and act as magistrates for minor offences. Today’s Verderers and Verderers Court continue to play an important role in the New Forest.
In 1854 a Register of Claims was published as the definitive account of common rights and the land to which they are attached.