Packed Verderers Court hears progress in scheme to regenerate the New Forest

Ponies graze on common land

Published Thursday 10 April 2014

A full Verderers Court of about 80 people heard how the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) Scheme had made great progress, at its Annual General Meeting.

The HLS scheme funds projects to conserve or improve the ecology and environment of the New Forest Crown Lands, excluding the inclosures and camp sites.

The 10 year agreement with Natural England, which started 1 March 2010 and runs to 29 February 2020, is worth £19m and is managed through a partnership of the Verderers, the Forestry Commission and the New Forest National Park Authority.

The Official Verderer Dominic May said:  ‘We are able to use the funds to turn the clock back and restore previous human intervention on the Forest into more favourable ecological condition.’

The Verderers manage grazing-related projects to support the ancient practice of Commoning; the Forestry Commission manages the wetland and habitat restoration projects; and the National Park Authority manages projects to protect archeological features, promote education and access, and bird surveys.

Highlights of the 2013-14 achievements included:


  • The second year of the Verderers Grazing Scheme, which pays the commoners for the beneficial grazing management by the animals they turn out, saw over 93% of all animals on the Crown Lands entered into the scheme. The grazing stock of ponies and cattle are the architects of the unique New Forest landscape, and the Verderers Grazing Scheme helps maintain this commoning activity.
  • The start of a seven-year programme to rebuild stock pounds across the Forest with hardwood.
  • A small grant fund has helped commoners with cattle handling facilities, hedges and connections to mains water.

Wetland restoration

These schemes reverse the effects of deep drainage channels which were first created by the Victorians at a time of intensification of agriculture and forestry, but which are harmful to the ecology of the Forest. The projects involve re-inserting meanders in streams, infilling deep man-made drains, and protecting boggy mires, therefore helping to re-create wilderness areas which had been previously lost.

  • Successful works at Buckherd Bottom, Pennymoor and Soldier’s Bog.
  • The process of applying for planning consent for the larger schemes started and these will be on a whole river catchment basis.

In January this year, the HLS Board members visited a river restoration project at Driver’s Nursery and Queen’s Meadow which had been restored in 2012.

The Official Verderer said: ‘The restored areas have recovered extremely well and it is no longer easy to identify the original routes of watercourses where these have been filled in. We saw good evidence of where the streams had flooded onto the surrounding flood plain, leaving beneficial organic matter deposited which would otherwise be washed downstream and lost out to sea. This is an excellent example of an HLS project which has turned the clock back, to re-wilderness an area, increasing biodiversity and improving environmental condition.’

Habitat management

  • Bracken and rhododendron clearance
  • Hundreds of old concrete fence posts along the old railway cycle and footpath from Brockenhurst to Holmsley removed.

Historic environment

  • 13 monuments restored back into favourable condition
  • 7,640 hectares (nearly 19,000 acres) surveyed by Lidar – laser scanning from a plane – to discover new archaeological features and help plan the wetland restoration programme
  • 175 volunteer days were undertaken towards the project over the last year and a number of these volunteers were given certificates in recognition of their contribution


  • 2,248 children aged seven to 16 benefited from a total of 48 education visits to the New Forest led by the National Park Authority Education Service and New Forest Centre Education Service.

Bird surveys

  • A survey which indicates that the breeding population of the rare nightjar has remained relatively stable since the previous survey 10 years ago.  Surveys of Dartford Warbler, Woodlark and nesting waders will take place this year.

The Official Verderer also thanked Verderer’s Grazing Scheme Manager Colin Draper who retired after 10 years. He said: ‘Colin was instrumental, with his great tact and diplomacy, in persuading commoners to join the scheme.  I am very sorry to lose Colin’s good wisdom and common sense; he has been a great servant to the Verderers and to me too.’

Mr Draper is replaced by Leanne Sargeant in administering the Verderers’ Grazing Scheme. 

To find out more about the HLS scheme visit


Notes to Editors

1. The Environmental Stewardship Schemes is administered by Natural England, on behalf of Defra, and funds farmers and land managers throughout England to deliver effective environmental management on their land.

The objectives of Environmental Stewardship are to:

  • Promote public access and understanding of the countryside
  • Maintain and enhance landscape quality and character
  • Protect the historic environment and natural resources
  • Conserve biodiversity

2. The role of the Verderers of the New Forest is to protect and administer the New Forest's unique agricultural commoning practices; to conserve its traditional landscape, wildlife and aesthetic character, including its flora and fauna, peacefulness, natural beauty and cultural heritage;  and to safeguard a viable future for commoning.  The Verderers derive their offices, powers and responsibilities from an Act of Parliament in 1877 and subsequent Acts.  The Verderers Court comprises the Official Verderer, 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. The Verderers work in conjunction with the Forestry Commission (which manages the Forest on behalf of the Crown), Natural England, and with owners of other areas of common land within the Forest, such as the National Trust.

3. The New Forest National Park Authority works with partners to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the National Park and to promote opportunities for understanding and enjoyment of its special qualities. It also has a duty to foster the social and economic well-being of local communities within the Park.

4. The Forestry Commission is the government department responsible for forestry in Great Britain. It supports woodland owners with grants; tree felling licences, regulation and advice; promotes the benefits of forests and forestry; and advises Government on forestry policy. It manages more than a million hectares (2.5 million acres) of national forest land for public benefits such as sustainable timber production, public recreation, nature conservation, and rural and community development. For more information, visit

5. Natural England is the government's advisor on the natural environment. Established in 2006 our work is focused on enhancing England's wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.

  • We establish and care for England's main wildlife and geological sites, ensuring that over 4,000 National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are looked after and improved.
  • We work to ensure that England's landscapes are effectively protected, designating England's National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and advising on their conservation.
  • We run England's Environmental Stewardship green farming schemes that deliver over £400 million a year to farmers and landowners, enabling them to enhance the natural environment across two thirds of England's farmland.
  • We fund, manage, and provide scientific expertise for hundreds of conservation projects each year, improving the prospects for thousands of England's species and habitats.
  • We promote access to the wider countryside, helping establish National Trails and coastal trails and ensuring that the public can enjoy and benefit from them.

Media Contacts:

Leanne Sargeant, Verderers of the New Forest. Tel: 02380 283134 Email:

Libby Burke, Forestry Commission. Tel: 023 8028 6832 Email: Makin, New Forest National Park Authority. Tel: 01590 646608 Email:

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