The history of the New Forest
The New Forest has a long and proud history that dates back almost one thousand years. Humans have been living within, changing the shape and sustaining the Forest since the Bronze Age, and continue to do so.
In 1079 William the Conqueror took ownership of the area as his own hunting forest. He also enforced a forest law, preventing local communities from using the forest to graze their livestock, hunt and forage for food or even erect fences, as these activities would interfere with William’s hunting pursuits.
After the death of William, and his predecessor Rufus, the rights of the common people were eventually restored in the 1217 Charter of the Forest. A special Verderers' Court was set up to enforce the laws of this Charter and protect these rights.
In 1923 the Forestry Commission was put in charge of the Forest’s 26,000ha of crown land, while the National Trust owns parcels of common land, adding up to 1600ha, of what is known as “The Northern Commons”.
These hold special meaning to the local communities: being on the edge of the Forest, they were and continue to be highly populated and enjoyed by a diverse range of user groups.
The northern commons also hold special rights over the crown lands, for example, they are one of the only places you will see sheep grazing.
To learn more about the history of the New Forest visit the New Forest Knowledge portal.
The National Trust has looked after New Forest commons since 1928. Take a look at our timeline to find out more: