The New Forest became a national park on March 1, 2005.
South-west Hampshire is home to the 224 square miles (580 sq km) of the New Forest. Established in 1070 by William the Conqueror to serve as his royal hunting ground, the forest stretches from the Solent and Southhampton Water in the south to the river Avon in the west to Woodgreen in the north.
Although the Forest was designated as a royal hunting ground William I allowed ‘commoners’ to graze their animals there. The rights of pasture (for ponies and cattle) and pannage (the foraging of pigs) are still important and protected by the New Forest Court of Verderers. There are more than 400 active commoners living in and around the Forest today, and up to 7000 animals graze in the open at different times of the year.
Ancient oak, beech, holly and yew woods along with newer tree plantations are mixed in with open heath and small scale farming. In the north are moorland, plateaus, and wooded valleys. Streams crisscross the forest. In the damper areas alder, willow and moss grow. Long established villages, some with large greens, bustle with activity.
Deer (fallow, roe, red and Japanese sika), 5000 ponies descended from the wild ones of ancient times, and cattle roam free in the unenclosed 45,000 acres of the forest. Other forest animals are the badger, fox, squirrel and otter.
The trees give shelter to a large variety of birds: nuthatch, stonechat, hawfinch, nightingale, woodlark and others. In the forest are rare dragonflies and several species of butterflies, among them the purple emperor and white admiral.
The New Forest is not without flowers. Over 700 species are found here, including many types of orchids. Exbury Gardens bloom in the spring with rhododendrons and azaleas.
The town of Lyndhurst remains as the centre of government in the forest as it was in the Middle Ages. The New Forest Museum and Visitor Centre in the town tells the history and traditions of the past. William I established the right of pasturage (right to graze stock) and pannage (right to let pigs forage for acorns) for all the forest dwellers. The ancient laws still hold sway today and are administered by Verderers.
William II was killed in the forest by a hunting arrow. The Rufus stone marks the spot. Bronze Age man left behind many barrows. In 1205 the Cistercians established Beaulieu abbey in the south-east of the forest. Much of the forest was felled, beginning in the early 1600s, to build ships for the navy.
Walks in the forest, blinds for viewing deer and fishing are popular activities. The Ornamental Drive is a scenic road fringed by trees and shrubs. Along the route is the large 600-year-old Knightwood oak. It measures 21 feet around.
New Forest National Park Authority
Lymington Town Hall, Avenue Road, Lymington, SO41 9ZG
Tel. 0 1590 646 600
Official New Forest Tourism website: The New Forest
Tel. 01590 689000
Visitor Information Centres:
Lymington Visitor Information Centre
Lymington, Hampshire, SO41 9BH
Tel. 01590 689000
New Forest Visitor Information Centre
Lyndhurst, The Main Car Park
Tel. 023 8028 2269
Tel. 01425 470896
Tel. 01425 654560
Photo of deer courtesy of David Packman, Hampshire Cam
Attractions in the New Forest
Beaulieu: Home of the Montagu family; on site is the National Motor Museum, Palace House and Gardens, Beaulieu Abbey and the World of Top Gear.
Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary: short distance from Bolderwood car park; viewing platform over meadow; walks; picnic area
Bucklers Hard: historic 18th-century cottages, riverside walk; location for building of Nelson’s navy warships; Maritime Museum; SS Persia Exhibition; St Mary’s Chapel; riverboat cruises.
Web: Bucklers Hard
Breamore House and Countryside Museum: near Fordingbridge; Elizabethan manor house and Countryside Museum (collections of agricultural and trade tools covering 10 generations); house furnished with period furniture, paintings, tapestries, porcelain and 17th century needlework.
Web: Breamore House
Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway: planted with the Rothschild Collection of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and rare trees and shrubs.
Lymington-Keyhaven RSPB Nature Reserve: Between the mouth of Lymington River and village of Keyhaven 500 acres of lagoons; diverse and highly specialised fauna and flora, including rare species; little tern birds
Liberty’s Owl Raptor & Reptile Centre: Crow Lane, Ringwood; birds of prey; daily flying displays; reptile house; cafe; shop; parking
Web: Liberty Owl, Raptor, and Reptile Centre
New Forest Centre: in Lyndhurst; visitor information centre, museum with history, wildlife, geology and crafts; reference library; gallery; gift shop.
Web: New Forest Centre
New Forest Reptile Centre: two miles south-west of Lyndhurst off the A35; reptiles and amphibians; cams of birds of prey; self-guided forest trail; woodland picnic area
New Forest Wildlife Park: focus on preservation of Eurasian otter; other species also in park
Web: New Forest Wildlife Park
Rockbourne Roman Villa: Rockbourne, Fordingbridge; largest Roman villa in the area; museum of Roman objects found in the area
Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum: in New Milton; more than 350 rare and classic motorbikes
Web: Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum
Solent Way: 95km (60-mile) coastal walking and cycling route from the seaside town of Milford-on-Sea to Emsworth Harbour.
Web: Solent Way
Special Event in the New Forest
New Forest and Hampshire County Show: held every year at end of July in Brockenhurst; major three-day event with demonstrations, exhibitions and competitions featuring many different country pursuits. Web: New Forest Show
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