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The New Forest

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The New Forest, a mysterious and friendly place
Image: © 2008 Graham Cooper

The New Forest, south and west of Winchester, was established in 1079 by William the Conqueror as one of his private hunting grounds. His son, William II, who was called William Rufus, was killed there while hunting.

According to Graham Cooper's excellent site, the New Forest retains many of the rural practices conceded by the Crown to local people. "Principal of these is the pasturing of ponies, cattle, pigs and donkeys in the open Forest by local inhabitants known as commoners."

Verderers - their name comes from the Latin word for green - have run the New Forest for almost a thousand years. And for almost a thousand years, commoners have defended their rights.

With the passing of the New Forest Act 1877, also known as the Commoners' Charter, the number of Verderers increased, and were elected locally by registered commoners living within the Forest. The issues they decide, though local, come straight out of British history, and concern self-rule.

Recently, a centralizing government inserted the New Forest into its National Park scheme.

While commoners and verderers take care of the Forest, deer, ponies, pigs, cattle and visitors wander through. Sometime ago I galloped across Forest heathland, splashing through puddles, breathlessly following my co-editor, who knew the way to the Rufus Stone.

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