New Forest Rural Skills
What has been achieved?
Hundreds of commoners, farmers and landowners have learned new skills through a range of courses and mentoring partnerships.
With 40 different subsidised courses on offer, including many at Sparsholt Agricultural College, the Rural Skills programme has covered both traditional and modern land management techniques. This has included pasture and soil management, environmental and sustainable land management, wildlife conservation on the farm, record keeping and paperwork, and farming practices.
Volunteering for OPOF and taking part in Rural Skills led Dom Hypher on a journey which ended with a whole new career in the New Forest. Here he tells us how it happened.
‘After many years in teaching I decided it was time to change career. I’d always wanted to work outside and was interested in combining my existing skills in education with outdoor work, ideally in the New Forest which is just on my doorstep. Having researched the route into this sector, it became evident that certain experience and skills were necessary. I started looking for volunteering opportunities and the ones that stood out were those offered by the Our Past Our Future partnership scheme. The range of opportunities was vast, from archaeology to practical conservation tasks to wildlife monitoring and many more.
‘It’s always slightly nerve-racking to attend your first volunteer session, but I received an incredibly friendly welcome, both from those facilitating the sessions and the other volunteers. I soon realised there was a wealth of knowledge and experience to learn from, coupled with excellent advice and support from the OPOF team, not to mention a steady supply of biscuits or cake, with tea out of the legendary Kelly kettles!
‘Running alongside this were opportunities provided by the training courses organised by the New Forest Land Advice Service. The subsidised cost and organisation of these courses made them affordable and accessible, providing further experience and relevant qualifications.
‘With the help of these experiences and qualifications, I gained my first job on a farm as assistant herd manager helping look after 120 Red Devon cattle, used primarily for heathland conservation management. From this experience, I moved on to working at a farm/education centre in the New Forest; a fantastic combination of education and farm work based around introducing people of all ages to the world of farming and the environment.
‘I never thought as I cut my first rhododendron branch, that a few years later I’d be, among other things, pond dipping with school groups in ancient woodland or showing sheep at the New Forest Show! I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to develop such a rewarding and enjoyable career, and in many ways, this is thanks to the opportunities, support and guidance provided by the Our Past, Our Future partnership.’
Forest knowledge has been shared and lasting friendships formed thanks to our innovative mentoring scheme for commoners.
Helping to round-up New Forest ponies, caring for stock and sheep showing are just a few of the skills learned during the free scheme, which aims to give new commoners the necessary skills to continue with the traditional practice of commoning.
The Vanderhoek family had been commoning for less than a year when they were paired with Ann Sevier, a 13th generation active commoner whose family has lived in the parish of Hyde since the 1650s.
At the time the Vanderhoeks had three ponies on the Forest and had acquired back-up grazing land near Fordingbridge. It was perfect timing for the family to join the scheme and to be paired with an experienced commoner. They spent 245 hours with Ann, including at various local commoning events such as the Verderers Court and Beaulieu Road Sales.
Tony Vanderhoek said: ‘Our mentor Ann was a great character to be with and taught us a lot of general commoning skills. Being with Ann allowed us to gain contacts with other commoners and to learn from their experiences as well. We are still great friends with Ann.’
The family now have 11 ponies in total, regularly attend pony drifts and Tony has joined the New Forest Commoners Defence Association (NFCDA) committee.
Eight experienced commoners have now been paired with 23 young and new commoners through the mentoring scheme. Each pairing lasts one year, with participants spending time on their mentor’s land to learn vital commoning skills that ensure the survival of this unique way of managing the Forest’s rare habitats and traditional way of life.
New commoner Sami Blastock, from Buckler’s Hard, was teamed with experienced commoner Charlie Knight based in Beaulieu.
Sami said: ‘Charlie has allowed me to participate in many different aspects of farming, including commoning, attending Salisbury Market, Beaulieu Road sales, drifts, meetings and talks. I hope to carry on with Charlie for many years to come.
‘Charlie is an absolute expert on deer especially fallow, and we have watched sika stags on many occasions when checking the pigs. We would sit and watch and he would tell historical facts as well as throwing in what bird he could hear at that time without drawing breath!’
Richard Austin, Volunteer, Training and Mentoring Coordinator, said the scheme has been invaluable in better integrating young commoners and those new to commoning into the community.
He added: ‘Our mentorees have benefitted from the vast expertise and support of our mentors which has given them the confidence to attend commoning events, make new friends, undertake work experience and become part of the CDA committee.
‘Our training programme has met the need and demand for upskilling local commoners, farmers and landowners in order to better manage their livestock and land. The courses have provided a great breadth of information and many local people have taken the opportunity to attend multiple courses over the project and reported positive feedback on their experience.’
It is hoped that the mentoring scheme will be continued beyond the funded life of the scheme at a relatively low cost if mentors can be maintained or new volunteers found.
Julie Melin-Stubs – Wildlife and Conservation Manager, New Forest Land Advice Service
Tel: 01590 646696 email: Julie.email@example.com