Meet the Locals
It’s not just our stunning scenery that keeps people returning to The New Forest, our friendly locals are often on hand to give you advise or simply to show and explain to you the New Forest’s unique way of life. Here, we take a look at some of the locals you might meet on your travels around our wonderful destination…
Commoners are those who occupy land or property to which privileges known as ‘rights of common’ are attached, including the right to graze stock on the Open Forest. You will often see their New Forest ponies, donkeys and cattle grazing by the roadside or on our heathlands and this is why.
At present over 500 commoners exercise this particular right and graze more than 8,000 ponies, cattle and donkeys around the year. It’s a traditional way of life that dates back a thousand years, although was only made official in the mid-16th century.
Some of our New Forest’s commoners featured in the Channel 4 TV series ‘A Year in the New Forest’ where the series took a look into the ways of life of commoners and their livestock over the seasons.
If you are walking or cycling in The New Forest you may just come across some of our commoners. Many will be happy to chat to you about the delights and constraints of this traditional way of life. Alternatively, head to the New Forest Heritage Centre in Lyndhurst to learn more about this ancient tradition and the unique way of life of the New Forest.
Keepers work for Forestry England. They have many different jobs to do in looking after the Forest, including making sure that the number of deer and other wild animals in the forest don’t get out of control. They will also keep an eye on the state of fences, gates, drains and ditches that need to be maintained. The job of the keeper was often passed down from one generation to the next. Each keeper has his own beat and gets to know the commoners in his area.
The New Forest National Park Authority employs Rangers who are on hand to help visitors to the New Forest. Acting often as a first point of contact, these rangers work to increase the understanding of the local landscape, culture and wildlife as well as to manage community projects. You will often see the rangers attending events including local fairs and shows, farmers’ markets and food festivals as well as partnership events and activities organised by the Forestry Commission and the New Forest Heritage Centre. You can also meet the rangers at Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary (particularly during the daily feeding of the deer in the summer months) at the New Forest Reptile Centre and Lepe Country Park.
Meet the producers
Our regular Farmers’ markets at Ringwood provide a great opportunity to meet our local producers. Chat with them about the goods they produce and perhaps their top tips for exploring The New Forest. There are also regular markets (although, not specifically farmers’ markets) at Lymington, New Milton, Hythe and also in Ringwood.
Similarly, our artisans and craft producers can show you what inspires them. Keep your eyes out for the Hampshire Open Studios events as well for a chance to see studios that aren’t usually open to the public.
Get involved in our events
Attending some of our events is another great way of meeting the locals. Keep your diary free for the annual New Forest and Hampshire County Show in Brockenhurst - this is a great way to see some of the area’s traditional ways of life including craft demonstrations, farm animal shows, food and drink marquees and lots more.
In addition to this look out for pop-up markets, talks, exhibitions, hands-on workshops and much more. Check out our what’s on pages for more details of what’s coming up when you plan on visiting.
Other ways to meet the locals
Another great way to meet some of our locals is to continue with the English tradition of heading to the pub! You will find a wide-selection of pubs in and around the New Forest - in quiet countryside villages to in some of our more bustling towns. Get chatting over a pint about the New Forest ways of life.
Equally, stay in one of our bed and breakfasts and your hosts will be delighted to share with you stories of the New Forest. Don’t forget to ask your hosts for their top tips for eating out, local walking routes that they can recommend and where they’ve visited that they have particularly enjoyed. This is a fantastic way to experience the New Forest way of life over a hearty breakfast!
Top-tips on being a Forest-friendly visitor
The New Forest National Park is a wonderful place to visit and you can help it stay that way by being a Forest friendly visitor and following the New Forest Code.
For their safety and your own please leave the animals alone - although owned and cared for by local people called commoners, they are unpredictable and best treated as wild. Please don’t feed or pet them; there is plenty of natural food and it’s best that they don’t come to rely on people’s attention. They may look friendly but they can bite and kick, especially ponies with foals.
Check out some more tips on how to be a Forest-friendly visitor on our Caring for the Forest page.