The Verderers’ Grazing Scheme (VGS) was introduced on 1st March 2012 and replaced the Verderers’ Countryside Stewardship Scheme which ran from 1 September 2003 to 29 February 2012. The new Scheme was brought about by the decision to upgrade the original scheme to a Higher Level Stewardship Scheme managed by a partnership between the Verderers, the Forestry Commission and the New Forest National Park Authority, and is due to run through until the end of February 2020. Full details are contained on the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship Scheme website.
Although the Verderers’ HLS commenced on 1st March 2010, the Verderers continued to manage the money allocated for commoning, under the rules of the original scheme until 2012 when they were amended to allow new commoners to join subject to a 3 year qualifying period. The VGS is funded through the HLS and now receives significantly more than under the original Countryside Stewardship Scheme. This has already paid for the important upgrade to the Beaulieu Road Sale Yard, providing mains water and electricity to ensure the long term future of this vital facility.
In addition to direct payments to commoners for depasturing stock, which is so essential to the ecology of the Forest, the Scheme is now able to fund a range of projects to sustain commoning on the Forest, now and into the future. These include the New Forest pony ‘Bloodline Scheme’ which is intended to re-introduce selected bloodlines into the Forest; the ‘Stallion Scheme’ which manages the selection and number of stallions which run on the Forest each year; and a newly introduced ‘Pony Welfare Programme’ which encourages commoners to replace older ponies with young stock, avoiding the inevitable welfare problems encountered by older ponies on the Forest. It is also funding a programme to rebuild up to 4 ‘pounds’ a year (pens where depastured animals are handled on the Forest) using hardwood, as a long term legacy project, as well as replacement of drift fencing to facilitate the rounding up of ponies.
In addition, the VGS contributes towards the cost of microchipping New Forest ponies when they are sold at Beaulieu Road (subject to eligibility); the work of the Land Advice Service team; reflective pony, and more recently, cattle collars; and funding for a small grants scheme to assist commoners with their commoning businesses.