The history of the New Forest

View out over Foxbury in 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.

Cattle grazing on the common
Cattle in the New Forest, Hampshire
Cattle grazing on the common


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. 

Gorse and cattle in Foxbury in the New Forest, Hampshire

The tradition of commoning in the New Forest 

Find out about the tradition of commoning in the New Forest

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”.

The New Forest Northern Commons are a feast for the eyes in summer
Sways of heather at Robin Hood Clump, Ibsley Common, New Forest, Hampshire
The New Forest Northern Commons are a feast for the eyes in summer

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 - https://nfknowledge.org .

When we started to care for the Northern Commons:

The history of our commons (PDF / 0.1MB) download