The New Forest
The New Forest lies to the west of Southampton Water in south west Hampshire and covers an area of over 90,000 acres. It was established by William the Conqueror as a royal hunting ground, and gave protection to the hunted animals and their habitats. The laws protecting these animals ensured that the hunting of deer and wild boar remained the privilege of the King and his followers.
As the centuries passed the New Forest’s role as a deer park diminished and, in fact, an attempt was made to remove all deer from the area in the mid 19 century. This was not entirely successful and some deer remained. Today, as part of the forest management, the numbers of deer are still kept under control.
The New Forest is unlike any other National Park in Britain. It retains many of the old rural practices which the Crown bestowed on inhabitants. Among these is the right to pasture ponies, cattle, pigs and donkeys in the forest.
Recreational activities are an important feature of the New Forest and, as much of the forest is owned by the Crown, access to most of it is freely available. Amongst the most popular activities are walking, cycling and horse riding. It has a wide range of wildlife and visitors can see ancient oaks, wild flowers, fungi, deer, reptiles, birds of prey, dragonflies and, of course, the New Forest Ponies. The New Forest Ponies are a breed of pony which has been roaming free in the New Forest for at least a thousand years. New stallions are released every year into the forest to improve the breed.
For walkers the New Forest offers many circular and linear routes. Picnic sites are located at various points of the walks, usually with toilet facilities. All year round guided walks are hosted by local experts who have knowledge of the history, geology, wildlife and folklore of the area. For disabled visitors the New Forest has a number of marked trails and over 100 miles of cycle tracks which are suitable for those using wheelchairs or buggies.
Among the many places of interest to visit is The New Forest Reptile Centre. Here visitors can find out about British reptiles and amphibians, and, in particular, how they are being conserved in the New Forest. The Reptile Centre is open from Easter until the end of September.
The New Forest Centre has been set up to help visitors get the most from the New Forest. Located at Lyndhurst, it contains a museum, information centre, gift shop, library and an exhibition gallery.
There is something for everyone in The New Forest, whether it’s relaxation, exploring or just looking at the scenery.