Donkeys on common land

History of commoning

Local people were granted the common right to graze their livestock and domestic animals in the New Forest over 900 years ago.

In 1079, when William the Conqueror first designated the New Forest as a royal hunting ground, he established a set of Forest laws to protect the deer and other hunting animals. This meant that the local people, who lived off the land, were not allowed to enclose areas of land, use the timber or hunt game to feed their families, which in turn made it difficult for them to survive. After much discontent, the local people were finally granted the commoning right to graze their livestock and domestic animals throughout the Forest as a means of compensation.

Officers were appointed by the Crown to ensure that Forest Law was obeyed and courts were established to oversee administration and act as magistrates for minor offences.

Today the Verderers continue to play a key role in protecting and administering commoning law. The Verderers Court is the the second oldest in the land after the coroners' courts. Present day Verderers derive their powers and responsibilities from an 1877 Act of Parliament.

The Court comprises the Official Verderer (Chairman), five elected Verderers representing the commoners and four appointed Verderers: one each appointed by the Forestry Commission, DEFRA, the National Park Authority and Natural England. The post of Official Verderer is a statutory appointment made by Her Majesty the Queen.

  1. Common rights of the New Forest
  2. History of commoning (you are here)
  3. Cattle
  4. Donkey
  5. New Forest pony
  6. Pigs
  7. Sheep
  8. New Forest Commoners Defence Association


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