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Donkeys in The New Forest


Over 900 years ago the local people within The New Forest were granted the right to graze their livestock throughout the forest; this was called ‘Commoning’. Commoning is a large aspect of The New Forest’s history and is still an act which is practiced to this day. Verderers are the ones responsible for protecting and enforcing the Commoning law, and act as representation of the Commoners.


There are many different types of livestock which are put out to pasture, including the infamous New Forest ponies, pigs and cows which we often find roaming around the forest. One of the more overlooked animals which can be found in the forest is the New Forest donkey, which can be found throughout the forest all year round.


Although greatly loved by the visitors to The New Forest, only around 100 donkeys are turned out into the forest in comparison with the 3,000 New Forest ponies. The New Forest donkeys are smaller and usually more docile than the ponies; normally the donkeys are domesticated animals and are typically pets of the locals.


Male donkeys are known as a ‘Jack’ and are allowed to stay in the forest all year round unlike the New Forest ponies; it is only on very rare occasions that a Jack is removed from the forest by its owner for being badly behaved. The female donkeys are referred to as a ‘Jenny’ and are also found in the forest throughout the entire year due to their hardy nature which allows them to survive the forest all year round. Although more docile than ponies, it is important for both your safety and the safety of The New Forest animals that you do not approach or stroke them and remember to keep your distance if they are with a foal.


Although a huge hit with visitors, New Forest donkeys are sometimes unpopular with the locals as donkeys enjoy feasting on their hedgerows. New Forest donkeys prefer to be around trees, hedges and bushes and you are unlikely to spot them on the large grassy heathlands. You can usually find some donkeys in the New Forest villages such as Beaulieu and Brockenhurst where they are a big attraction for the locals; however you must remember it is an illegal offence to feed them.


Remember when visiting The New Forest that you do your bit to make sure you ensure the safety of the donkeys that live here. Donkeys are likely to cross roads at any time, so make sure you adhere to the speed limit and keep an eye out. If you are involved in a road traffic collision with a New Forest donkey, it is an illegal offence not to report it. Be sure to carry an animal’s emergency hotline card which provides you with all the information you will need in the case of a collision.