Ancient forest in southwest Hampshire, southern England, and the largest stretch of semi-natural vegetation in lowland Britain. Lying between the River Avon on the west and Southampton Water on the east, its legal boundary encloses 38,000 ha/93,898 acres (1995). Of this area 8,400 ha/20,756 acres is enclosed plantation, and 20,000 ha/49,420 acres is common land, including ancient woodland, heath, grassland, and bog. The remainder is privately owned land and villages. More than six million tourists visit annually.
At least 46 rare plants are found in the New Forest, as well as more than half of Britain's species of butterflies, moths, and beetles.
Features The principal trees in the forest are oak and beech, with large patches of holly as undergrowth. The area provides a habitat for many breeds of birds, as well as badgers, foxes, and deer. New Forest ponies, a small breed said to have descended from small Spanish horses, graze in the forest. Much of the grazing is unfenced and managed as common land. Natley and Denny is a nature reserve.
The principal town in the New Forest is Lyndhurst. Villages include Brockenhurst, Minstead, and Beaulieu. Other features include the Knightwood Oak, with a circumference of about 7 m/22 ft, and the Rufus Stone, marking the place where William (II) Rufus is thought to have been killed in 1100.
History A hunting ground in Saxon times, the New Forest was reserved as Crown property in 1079 and William the Conqueror extended its area. His sons William (II) Rufus and Richard were both killed here while hunting. The forest became important as a source of timber for the building of ships in the 17th–19th centuries. In the 20th century the Forestry Commission took over the administration of most of the forest.
Management The boundary of the New Forest is fenced and gridded, to prevent livestock from crossing, and is known as the New Forest Perambulation, to which the New Forest Acts apply. Within the boundary the Verderers (officers responsible for order in the forest) protect the Rights of Common and the traditional character of the forest. Various other bodies are involved in the forest's management, though none has a remit covering the whole of the New Forest Heritage Area. They include the Forestry Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture, local authorities at county, district and borough level, the Countryside Commission and English Nature. Since 1990 their work in relation to the New Forest has been coordinated by the New Forest Committee.
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