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Exploring the New Forest Northern Commons

A visitor walking with a dog amid bracken and small trees with a view north from Furze Hill, New Forest Northern Commons, Hampshire, in October.
Walking the dog with a view north from Furze Hill, New Forest Northern Commons, Hampshire | © National Trust Images/John Miller

The Northern Commons within the New Forest are a wide-open, boundary-less landscape, leading gently through heather plains and woodland to miniature valleys, swollen with bouncy bogs and gravel streams and home to an array of wildlife.

The New Forest is one of the best examples of lowland heathland in Britain. This is an internationally rare habitat. It includes a wide range of habitats, from bogs and mires to wet heath through to humid and dry heath. This undulating and varied landscape provides habitat for a vast array of rare and diverse wildlife.

Our New Forest Northern Commons can be defined by four distinct areas: Bramshaw Common, Rockford and Ibsley Commons, Hightown and Hale Purlieu.

Bramshaw Common

Take in the boundless views from Stagbury Hill, the second highest point in the whole New Forest and a Bronze Age barrow site. Wander through the open wood pasture at Half Moon or the wetland bogs at Plaitford. Visit Stocks Cross, a former criminal punishment site containing stocks and gallows used until 1831.

Bramshaw is a centre of commoning and home to myriad wildlife species. It's well known for bird life, such as wood larks, nightjars and Dartford warblers, as well as dragonflies and butterflies.

The Bramshaw commons of Cadnam and Penshaw are also UK havens for one of Britain's most endangered plant species, the tiny yellow flowering fleabane.

Rockford and Ibsley

Climb to the top of a hill or simply stroll through wild, open landscapes at Rockford Common, and take in extraordinary scenery and spectacular vistas at Ibsley.

Explore hidden and gentle valley systems, braided with mires and bogs, and exposed plateaux of heather dotted with character pine plantations, such as Robin Hood’s clump and Whitefield.

Paths wind though ancient woodland edges, eventually leading up through gorse and heather to reveal views of Cranborne Chase and the Purbeck hills of Dorset.

Visit the Huff Duff (an old directional station) and associated bunker on this 4.3 mile walk through Rockford and Ibsley Commons.


A small pocket of lowland heathland on the edge of the New Forest boasting stunning views to the south. Small but perfectly formed, Hightown is the New Forest in miniature, comprising all the lowland heathland habitats you would expect to find on some of the larger commons.

Hale Purlieu

On the far north-western side of the New Forest, Hale Purlieu is made up of dry and wet heathland, comprising mires, bogs, scrub and woodland. It is one of the only National Trust sites in the New Forest where protected silver studded blue butterflies can be seen feeding among the heather, and nightjars are regularly heard 'churr'-ing during summer evenings.

The site has some of the finest examples of wetland valley mires in the Forest, hosting many rare species of bog flora. Being on the edge of the Forest, views from the Common’s high points looking south-east make the Forest look like an almost endless landscape of gentle valleys, open hillsides and woodland.

Cross streams and take in views across Hale Purlieu's valleys and mires with this 3 mile walk.

Path through russet coloured bracken and yellow leaved silver birch, Hale Purlieu, Hampshire
Hale Purlieu in the New Forest, in autumn | © National Trust Images / John Miller

Autumn at the New Forest Northern Commons

The countryside of the New Forest transforms over autumn, with great swathes of rich colours. In September, pink and purple contrast with green bracken and yellowing leaves. Ancient oaks, beech and sweet chestnut tree canopies display rich autumnal hues of gold and red.

As the acorns begin to drop from oak branches, pigs are released onto our Northern Commons to gobble them up. An ancient commoning right known as pannage, this protects the other livestock from eating acorns, which can cause illness.

Fungi start to emerge from early September, littering the New Forest floor with a diverse array of colours and mystical shapes.

Fly agaric fungi in the New Forest, Hampshire
Fly agaric fungi in the New Forest, Hampshire | © National Trust Images/David Johnson

New Forest Fungi

The New Forest is one of the best places in Europe to see seasonal displays of fungi. Every autumn, the commons are transformed into a colourful landscape of different shapes and sizes of fungi, which support the forest’s ecosystem.

There are over 2,700 different varieties of fungi in the New Forest. They form part of the unique ecosystem that makes the Forest a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

Protecting fungi

Sadly, there has been an increasing trend of foraging for fungi in the New Forest, which could lead to a negative impact on fungi populations and the organisms they support.

The National Trust team at New Forest don't support or allow fungi picking on any of the New Forest commons. This is in line with our Wild Food Foraging position and the Forestry Commissions policy on fungi picking in the New Forest.

Commercial picking is illegal, so if you suspect or see commercial picking please call our New Forest team on 01425 650035.

Family on a walk at Furzley Common, New Forest Northern Commons, Hampshire, with a far-reaching view over trees to the horizon

Discover more at New Forest Northern Commons

Find out how to get to the New Forest Northern Commons, where to park, the things to see and do and more.

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