The New Forest is over 900 years old. It is a mainly wooded area in southern Hampshire developed as a hunting reserve by the Norman kings in the 11th century. It occupies about 336 sq. km. (130 sq. miles) between the River Avon and Southampton Water. The towns of Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst are within its boundaries.
It was an ancient wooded area used for hunting but much of it was cleared for agriculture in Anglo-Saxon times. In 1079 William I declared it a game reserve and brought the whole brutal weight of the law into developing and preserving it for royal use alone. In 1100 king William II (Rufus) was killed there by an arrow whilst hunting - whether accidentally or on the orders of his successor, Henry I, is not known. The spot is marked by an obelisk.
Over the centuries the laws were relaxed and private ownership gradually introduced. Today only parts of it are crown land, although the Forestry Commission is charged with its management. Its inhabitants can thank history and tradition for certain privileges:
- Estover – the right to cut firewood.
- Marl – the right to improve the soil.
- Pannage – the right to let pigs roam wild.
- Pasturage – the right to graze livestock.
- Turbary – the right to cut turf for fuel.
Frederick Marryat’s 1847 children’s novel “Children of the New Forest” is set there.
The only British member of the cicada family resides there.
A breed of semi-wild pony (which, legend says, are descendants of horses brought ashore from wrecked Spanish Armada ships) inhabit the more open parts of the forest.
Reference: Brewer's England and Ireland.