We welcomed Jonathan Gerrelli the New Forest Head Agister who spoke on the role of the Verderers and Agisters in the New Forest. Stretching from Wiltshire to the Solent the New Forest encompasses 90,000 acres of unique habitat and ecosystems. It was created in 1079 by William the Conqueror as a new royal hunting forest. An ancient system was established to protect and manage the woodlands and wilderness heaths which is still in place today through the efforts of Verderers, Agisters and Commoners - the judges, stockmen and land users of the forest.
The New Forest was awarded National Park status in 2005 when its boundary was extended beyond the traditional Crown lands. The management of the land is the responsibility of Forestry England and the New Forest Verderers. Forestry England are responsible for the Crown lands, timber management, recreation and sites of special scientific interest. Their team of New Forest Keepers maintain and improve wildlife habitats and manage the deer population.
The Verderers have a history dating back to Saxon and Norman times. Their current powers date back to the New Forest Act of 1877 with the aim to represent the interests of the Commoners rather than the Crown. The Verderers Court comprises the Official Verderer, five elected Verderers representing Commoners and four appointed Verderers from Forestry England, DEFRA, National Park Authority and Natural England. Nowadays their main responsibility is ensuring the health and welfare of commoner’s ponies, donkeys, cattle and pigs.
The Verderers employ a team of five Agisters. These skilled horsemen supervise and monitor the welfare of the animals which graze on the forest. They collect marking fees and hold up to 40 drifts per year to round up, check, and if necessary remove, animals across the forest. They also respond to road traffic accidents involving commoners animals.
Common Rights are attached to properties, not individuals, in the New Forest. These include Pasture (grazing of animals), Mast (turnout of pigs during pannage) and Estovers (provision of wood for fuel). The rights of Marl (digging of clay) and Turbary (cutting turf for fuel) are no longer exercised. Commoners typically graze 5500 ponies, 4000 cattle and 700 pigs each year.