When William the Conqueror established his ‘new hunting forest’ nearly 1,000 years ago he put in place a system of Verderers, Agisters and Commoners (the judges, police and land users) to protect the historic landscape.
During the Drift in early autumn, skilled riders herd the 3,000 or so ponies whose Commoner owners have the right for them to roam which is attached to property ownership and often passed down from fathers to sons and daughters. Veterinary health checks are carried out and foals are weaned from their mothers, often to be sold at regular pony sales.
Pony Sales take place six times a year in a purpose-built pen and sales area next to Beaulieu Road Station. These events are a colourful example of the Forest’s ancient animal heritage and you can watch it from a window at The Drift Inn, while enjoying the warming experience of New Forest hospitality.
Another New Forest tradition during the autumn is pigs in pannage. Commoners let their pigs loose to hoover up fallen acorns which are poisonous to other animals. The pigs eat beech mast, crab apples and anything else they can find.
As many as 600 pigs are turned out to join the famous New Forest ponies, cattle, donkeys and deer which can be spotted as you travel around the forest.
The pigs roam the New Forest for 60 days from September (the right of pannage or mast), though some breeding or ‘privileged’ sows are only turned out providing they return to the owner’s holding at night and are not a nuisance! Commoners pay a fee for each pony, cow and pig they turn out. Pannage plays an important part in the New Forest’s ecology and the husbandry of other livestock in an area which has preserved its rich heritage of the past to make it an enchanting place to visit today.
For more information log on to www.thenewforest.co.uk