The Verderers' Court is a legal body set up by Parliament under the New Forest Act of 1877. It is the last remnant of the old form of Forest government, which was at one time found in many parts of the country. The Verderers regulate commoning (the exercise of common rights such as grazing ponies) in the Forest. They also have wide responsibilities in respect of development control and conservation. The present Court consists of ten Verderers. Five are elected by the Commoners (people with common rights) and the other five are appointed, one each by the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Forestry Commission, the National Park Authority and Natural England. The Official Verderer is chairman of the Court and is appointed by the Queen.
To help them with their work, the Verderers employ a Clerk (administrator), an Assistant to the Clerk and five Agisters. The Agisters are responsible for supervising the day-to-day welfare of the stock (ponies, cattle, donkeys, pigs and sheep) which graze the Forest and are owned by the Commoners.
The Verderers have published a series of pamphlets describing their responsibilities, the role of Agisters, and an overview of Commoners and their stock. A pamphlet is also available on a recently introduced scheme to support financially the continued release of stock into the Forest - the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. The stock make a vital contribution to the Forest's ecology and landscape. The pamphlets are available for download below as .pdf files (all links open in a new window, and for each download will appear in the same window).
The Verderers have also published policies to preserve the special qualities of the New Forest - they are also available as a .pdf document.
In October 2007, the Verderers also published a pamphlet entitled "The New Forest - precious wilderness or suburban park?". The pamphlet explains in non-technical terms what the policies mean in practice, and it also provides illustrations of the problems the policies seek to address. The pamphlet is available for download.
On average over the last five years, about 0.8% of Commoners' stock turned out into the Forest are killed each year in road traffic accidents. For example, in 2014, 68 animals were killed, and 23 injured. Deer are not included in these totals. Thirty two accidents in that year were not reported to the authorities (see below). A summary of the deaths and injuries in stock for the period 1956-2013 and last week's accidents are available below:
Agisters monitor the condition of stock in the Forest. The Verderers, in conjunction with various welfare organisations, set a condition standard below which the condition of an animal must not fall. The Agisters may remove such animals from the Open Forest and the owners must take steps to improve the animal's condition.
If you see an animal which looks ill, is injured, or in distress you should report it as soon as possible, giving: a clear description of the animal, what you think may be wrong with it, where you saw it and at what time. During working hours you should telephone the Verderers' Office on 02380 282052. If you are unable to obtain a reply then try the Forestry Commission on 02380 283141. The Forestry Commission line is answered 24 hours a day. If you don't get an answer from either of these numbers and the situation is urgent, please call the Police on either 999 or 101 and ask them to contact an Agister.
Have you seen, or been involved in, an RTA with a Forest animal?: Dial 999.
Do not use email or the web contact form to contact the Verderers in an emergency.
If you are involved in, or witness, a road traffic accident in which a vehicle collides with a pony, cow, donkey, pig or sheep, you must telephone the Police on 999 or the Forestry Commission on 0300 067 4600 (24 hours) at the earliest opportunity. Even if you think the animal is uninjured, you must report the accident. Animals often appear unhurt but in fact may have serious internal injuries. The Agisters will always do their best to find and check out animals which have been involved in a collision with a vehicle.
Incidents involving deer (which are classed as wild animals) should be also be reported to the Forestry Commission or if unavailable, to the Police.
Motorists are rarely prosecuted for injuring or killing an animal unless they fail to report the accident. Hit and Run accidents are taken extremely seriously and drivers who are subsequently identified, will be prosecuted.
The Agisters of the New Forest, together with the Commoners who own the livestock that freely roams the Forest, require 24 hour access to effectively manage their livestock. If an animal is injured and access is restricted by a carelessly parked vehicle, this may seriously compromise that animal’s welfare and, in some cases, its chance of survival.
The Verderers have joined forces with Fire Crews, Ambulance Teams and the Forestry Commission in a potentially life-saving drive to curb careless parking across the New Forest. From now on (Oct 10), motorists leaving their vehicles in Forest gateways, and Forest verges will find stickers put on their windscreens warning them about the peril they are causing.
But it is not just animals lives being put at risk. Seconds count when an ambulance is called to someone who has suffered a heart attack out on the Forest. Speed can be just as vital when someone falls from a horse or bicycle. If a Forest access is blocked by a thoughtlessly parked car a patient could pay for it with his life.
The Hampshire Fire & Rescue New Forest Group Manager commented that it is crucial the campaign message gets through: ‘save lives, protect the forest.’ He added: "We want people to park wisely. And that means well away from forest gates and access points".
“We’re on constant alert in case of fires in the Forest. In these conditions a blaze can easily travel 100 metres in a minute. If our fire engines are held up at a gate even for a couple of minutes it can result in enormous destruction being caused to the Forest and its wildlife.”
A Forestry Commission spokesperson said that verge side parking also put lives at risk. Pedestrians and livestock are in peril every time oncoming motorists have to manoeuvre around an improperly parked car and the parking campaign will be ongoing. The details of any cars repeatedly found blocking forest access routes will be recorded
Save Lives...Protect The Forest...
PLEASE DON'T FEED OR TOUCH THE PONIES! The ponies are semi-wild although some may not appear so. It is important that you do not feed them either by hand or by throwing food on the ground. The ponies do not need it and some things may make them ill. Unfortunately, hand feeding also makes some ponies aggressive and every year people are attacked because people feed the ponies and they become greedy and demand more. A pony which causes injury to a person is usually removed from the Forest permanently. That is unfair to the pony whose home is the Forest and it is unfair on its owner. Remember - the ponies belong to someone else.
LEARN TO RECOGNISE WHEN A PONY IS FEELING GRUMPY! Ears laid back means "go away and leave me alone" or it may mean "give me your sandwich"! In such situations it is wise to retreat as quickly as possible! A bite or kick from a pony hurts and the latter could break your leg. A child could be killed.
PLEASE DON'T DROP LITTER. Apart from being unsightly (and illegal), dropping litter in the Forest is harmful to the animals.
PLEASE LEAVE YOUR BIN-BAGS INSIDE YOUR GATE. If you live or stay in a property with Forest animals just outside the gate, leave your bin-bag inside the gate and out of reach of inquisitive animals. The animals make a horrible mess when they tear open a bag of rubbish and of course, they may injure themselves on a sharp tin or become ill if they eat the wrong things.
PLEASE DON'T DUMP GRASS CUTTINGS OR HEDGE CLIPPINGS ON THE FOREST. Strange though it may seem, as lawn mowings are after all "grass", they are LETHAL to ponies and donkeys. Lawn mowings left in a heap heat up and start to ferment. If they are eaten by ponies and donkeys gas is released into the animal's stomach and intestine. Their stomach or intestine may then rupture and the animal dies in agony. Clippings from yew, laburnum, rhododendron, some conifers, azaleas and many other garden plants are poisonous to animals and for these reasons all garden waste must be disposed of properly and not dumped on the Forest.
KEEP THE GATE SHUT! Whether a gate goes into an inclosure, a field or a garden, it is there to keep the animals out. Animals have come to serious harm through getting into places where they shouldn't be. Occupiers of property within the Forest have a duty to fence against legally depastured stock. That means if your fence is rotten or your gate is left open and a pony gets in and tramples your beautiful lawn or eats your shrubs you cannot claim compensation from the animal's owner. Indeed, if the animal is injured or is poisoned in your garden the owner may claim compensation from you! There have been cases of animals falling into swimming pools (especially if they are covered with plastic sheets) and apart from the poor animal drowning, the owner of the property has been successfully sued.
DO KEEP YOUR DOGS UNDER CONTROL. Every year Forest animals, particularly young ones, are injured by dogs. Some are even killed or die later from infected bites. We all love to let our dogs run on the Forest and provided they are reliable around animals that is fine. If in doubt, however, keep your dog on a lead. Remember also that at certain times of year some quite rare birds nest on the ground and a nest which has been destroyed is a sorry sight. In spring the deer have their young and a fawn left whilst mum goes to feed is very vulnerable.
DO ENJOY THE FOREST AND ITS ANIMALS. Watch from a safe distance and enjoy the animals and the unique beauty of the Forest. Remember that the Forest is the animals' home and it is only fair to respect it and let them live in peace.
The Forest Code states:
There are also dog walking, cycling, horse riding and coarse fishing codes published by a forum of local people and organisations interested in conservation and recreation. They can be downloaded below:
The links below provide more information on the management and history of the Forest, and its importance in ecological, environmental and agricultural terms. All links open in a new window.