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Cultural Heritage and History of the New Forest

 Historic Dates  -  History of Recreation - Ranger Team

‘New Forest’, or ‘Nova Foresta’, was Fallow Deercreated by William the Conqueror as a royal hunting ground, and forest laws were enforced to protect the hunted animals and their habitats. 

These strict laws ensured that the hunting of deer and wild boar remained the closely guarded privilege of the King and his followers.

Over the centuries, deer hunting became less important, and by the 17th and 18th centuries timber production was the primary economic use of the New Forest. The New Forest Acts came into force, and areas were fenced off to protect young saplings from the grazing animals.

It wasn’t until the Act of 1877 that two thirds of the forest were set aside for commoners to exercise their traditional rights.

Deer populations were left unmanaged until the 19th century when they reached levels that threatened the timber crops and competed with the commoners’ stock for food.

The Deer Removal Act was established in 1851 and it was resolved that all deer were to be removed. Although total removal was not achieved, the numbers did reduce dramatically, and the Forestry Commission's keepers continue to keep these numbers under control today.

Historical Dates



1066 Area was woodland and furze (gorse) with sparsely scattered farms and homesteads. Duke William of Normandy conquered England and became King William I.

1079 ‘New Forest’ created by William I as a royal hunting preserve. Forest laws were set up to protect ‘beasts of the chase’ and their habitats with punishments for transgression ranging from fines to death. Indigenous peasants who were unable to enclose their land were granted the common right to graze domestic animals throughout the forest.

1086 Area first recorded as the New Forest in the Doomsday Book.

1100 William II (Rufus), son of William I, killed whilst hunting – mystery still surrounds his death.

1217 Charter of the forest.

1269 Forester’s Table in the account book of Beaulieu Abbey.

13th –15th Centuries. Demand for timber increased and became the principal raw material of the time. Six Royal Hunting Lodge sites had been established in the New Forest.

1379 New Forest timber supplied for the defences of Southampton.

1483 First tree-growing Act passed allowing large areas to be enclosed to establish woodlands – areas to be opened when they had outgrown danger from cattle. Known as rolling power of enclosure because new areas were enclosed as mature woods were thrown open.

1565 Timber census (5,800 acres of inclosures).

1611 First recorded felling of timber for the Navy.

1698 Act passed by William III allowed enclosure of further 6,000 acres for growing Navy timber. Rolling powers meant this could increase, to the detriment of commoners’ grazing rights.

1745 First ship built at Bucklers Hard – called the ‘Surprise’.

1776 Scots pine introduced at Ocknell and Bolderwood. Production of Navy timber becoming more important than hunting. No record of any sovereign hunting after James I.

1781 Nelson’s favourite ship, the ‘Agamemnon’, built at Bucklers Hard costing £24,000 and using 3,000 oak trees.

1787 Survey of the New Forest by Drivers, Richardson and King.

1808 Act for the increase and preservation of timber in Dean and New Forest.

1845 Southampton and Dorchester Railway Act – extended the London to Southampton railway as far as Dorchester.

1851 Deer Removal Act – Attempt to remove all deer began and 10,000 acres enclosed and planted.

1860 Schultz gunpowder mill at Eyeworth. Taken over by Nobel during 1914 – 1918 war. Closed 1926.

1877 Act of Parliament passed meant Crown gave up its rolling powers, and no more land could be enclosed beyond what had been during the reign of William III, and subsequently up to the passing of this Act. Court of Verderers established.

1909 Commoners’ Defence Association formed.

1919 Forestry Commission established.

1924 Forestry Commission took over management of the New Forest from the Office of Woods.

1935-45 Wartime airfields at Stoney Cross, Holmsley and Beaulieu Heath.

1949 New Forest Act. Adjustment of New Forest Boundary – perambulation. Conservation emphasised.

1969 New Forest becomes ‘National Nature Reserve’. ‘Minute of Intent’ signed by the Forestry Commission and Nature Conservancy Council (now Natural England), recognising the importance of working together.

1970 New Forest Act.

1971 Wild Creatures and Forest Laws Act – abolition of Forest Law. Joint steering Committee report approved by Ministry of Agriculture. Conservation measures began. New Forest Consultative Panel formed. New Forest declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act – reinforced the legal status of SSSI.

1986 Review Group formed to consider conservation of traditional character of forest for future generations.

1990 New Forest Committee formed as a result of Review Group’s report. It was formed ‘to co-ordinate the activities of six national and local government bodies which have greatest involvement in the life and future of the forest’ (New Forest Committee First Annual Report 1990).

1991 National Parks Review Panel recommended to the Government that the New Forest be formally recognised as a National Park with a ‘tailor-made constitution’. Nature Conservancy Council becomes English Nature. New Forest Committee adopts New Forest Heritage Area.

1992 Forestry Commission produces ‘New Forest Management Plan 1992-2001’ as its guidelines for management. The Government responded favourably to the National Park Review Panel recommendations. The New Forest’s unique value in terms of landscape and nature conservation was recognised as deserving the strongest protection in keeping with its national and international importance. Its distinctive management and administrative history should be maintained.

1994 After public consultation, the Government announced that the New Forest would not be granted National Park equivalent status, nor would the New Forest Committee be granted statutory powers for management of the whole New Forest Heritage area. However, planning protection in the area was extended as if the New Forest were a National Park.

1995 ‘Declaration of Intent’ signed by the Forestry Commission, English Nature and the Verderers, committing each organisation to working together.

1996 Several strategies brought out for the New Forest:
Transportation Strategy for the New Forest – Hampshire County Council
Tourism and Visitor Strategy – New Forest District Council
A Strategy for the New Forest – New Forest Committee

1997 LIFE Project set up to restore the historic landscape of the ancient woodlands and heaths through a series of conservation projects. The project is a partnership between English Nature, Forestry Commission, Hampshire County Council, Hampshire Wildlife Trust, New Forest Committee, Ninth Centenary Trust, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Verderers of the New Forest and Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. Forestry Commission released ‘A Framework for Recreation Consultation Document’.

1998 ‘Minister’s Mandate consultation draft’ released.

1999 Launch of ‘New Forest New Future’ – a project to produce plans which will guide the management of the New Forest Inclosure woodlands into the next century. Minister’s Mandate for the New Forest: 1999-2008, signed in July 1999, reflected that the conservation of natural and cultural heritage of the forest is the principle objective of management for the Crown Lands. It also underlined the importance of sustainable forestry and appropriate public recreation. In October, the Countryside Agency decides to begin the process of designating the New Forest as a National Park.

2000 The Countryside Agency identifies the draft National Park boundary and initiated a three month public consultation.

2001 Management Plan for the Crown Lands of the New Forest: 2001-2006 produced by the Forestry Commission.
Seven detailed ‘Subject Plans’ support the Management Plan:

  • Access and Recreation Management Plan 2001
  • Working Together Community Plan 2001 
  • Healthland Management Plan 2001
  • Ancient and Ornamental Woodlands 2001
  • Inclosure Plan 2001 
  • Deer Management Plan 2001
  • Scheduled Ancient Monuments 2001

Forest Friendly Farming Project launched to support farming in the New Forest.
The Countryside Agency considers responses to public consultation and undertakes a formal three month consultation on proposed boundary with local authorities affected, as legislation required.
A National Park Designation Order was made and advertised in local papers. The Secretary of State announced that a Public Inquiry is to be held.

2002 Public Inquiry scheduled for October 2002. If the Designation Order is confirmed, the New Forest National Park will be created.

2003 PROGRESS Project set up to investigate the impact recreation has on sensitive sites, and devise plans to guide management on how to protect the Forest.  

2005 The New Forest became a National Park on 1 March.

 History of Recreation


In 1847 the London to Southampton railway was extended to Dorchester, making the New Forest much more accessible and marking the beginning of modern tourism in the area. At this point, the numbers were small and their impact was minor, but after the 2nd World War tourism and recreation rapidly developed, as many families became wealthier and had more leisure time.

There was a rapid increase in recreation in the 1960s and 1970s during which time camping and car parking was relatively uncontrolled with cars sometimes venturing into the forest, well away from the roads. The rise in the number of tourists meant that these activities began to cause unwanted environmental impacts on the New Forest and a management plan to reconcile tourism and recreation was required. The Forestry Commission began this process in 1972  - barriers were constructed to create car free areas and 142 car parks were created (subsequently reduced to 134). Camping on FC land was restricted to 18 campsites and later, reduced to ten.

Whilst the growth in tourism and recreation is not as rapid today, the New Forest remains a popular destination for holidaymakers and day-trippers. Current figures show that there are 24 million people days spent in the forest each year with 18 million of those comprising local residents.

Managing Recreation

Many different organisations are involved in recreation management. The Forestry Ccommission has a Recreation and Access Strategy covering the Crown lands, The New Forest District Council has a strategy for tourism; Hampshire County Council has a strategy for transport in the New Forest; and the New Forest Committee has produced an overarching  ‘Strategy for the New Forest’ which includes plans for recreation management. The new National Park Authority will take on a strategic role for managing recreation within the National Park.

The Impact of Recreational Activities

Walking may cause damage to natural habitats through the compaction or erosion of fragile soils. This tends to be concentrated near car parks, since many people do not stray far from their vehicles. The impact of erosion depends on the sensitivity of the habitats affected. Areas of plantation woodland are generally more robust and able to cope with visitor pressures, whereas more fragile habitats such as heathland and riverine habitats are more easily damaged.     

Dog Walking
Dog walking is a very popular activity enjoyed by many local people throughout the year. While most dog owners are responsible, a few out of control dogs can disturb livestock and ground nesting birds. Owners are asked to stick to the paths during the nesting season - 1st  March to 31st July. Dog fouling can be a nuisance, particularly around car parks, and is also a health hazard. (Download the New Forest Dog Walking Code here)

Cycling has greatly increased in popularity over recent years and its use as an alternative form of transport is seen as a positive way of reducing traffic pressure in the Forest. However, off-road cycling can have negative environmental impacts such as erosion, wildlife disturbance and conflict with other recreational users. The Forestry Commission provides a network of over 100 miles of off-road way-marked cycle routes. (Download the New Forest Cycle Code & map here)     
Over 3,500 horses are kept in the New Forest for recreational use by both private individuals and commercial riding stables. Riding can cause damage to paths, as forest soils are fragile and quickly cut up under horses’ hooves. The loose soil and gravel can easily wash away during rain, causing erosion.

In 1998 a donation of £3,000, which was matched by the Forestry Commission, was given by a local riding school towards the construction of a gravel path for riders aimed at encouraging users to keep off eroded forest areas. The track was opened in September 1998 and links with other paths to form a twelve-mile circuit.(Download the New Forest Horse Riding Code here)

Camping is always popular in the Forest and the Forestry Commission provides ten campsites to cater for this demand. The local economy benefits massively from campers, who spend money at local shops, pubs and restaurants.

As with the car parks, there is a need to reconsider the location of campsites that are on, or close to, sensitive areas. As there is a constant need for management to maintain safety at the campsites, the impact on the local environment at these vulnerable areas can be damaging.     

It has been estimated that 95% of visitors travel to the New Forest by car. This includes 81% of local residents. Traffic can produce serious congestion, especially during the busy summer periods, and roads around Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst are particularly badly affected.

On the minor, unfenced roads there is a continuing problem of animal injury and death as a result of traffic accidents. The number of animal casualties has declined over the years as a result of measures such as fencing and the 40mph speed restriction. However in 2004, 118 domestic stock were killed or injured. Most of these accidents (109) occurred at night and 88 involved local motorists.

Forestry Commission’s Ranger Team


Raising people's awareness about and involving them in the management of this unique area has a positive effect on the environment. The Forestry Commission’s team of rangers offers an extensive

programme of events including guided walks, talks to local groups and presentations to local schools. Their aim is increase people's understanding, awareness and enjoyment of the the forest and gain people's care and support to help protect it.

In 1999 a Volunteer Ranger Service was set up for local people to get involved in the management of the forest. There are now more than 50 committed members of the local community who provide essential volunteer support to the Forestry Commission. 

Last updated: 14th April 2016

England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.