New Forest National Park, England

Last Updated on November 9, 2020

The New Forest, Wild Ponies, and History

This little section of England is chock-full of history, picture-postcard thatched cottages, ponies, wild pigs and free-roaming cattle.

William the Conqueror named this area of Hampshire his ‘new hunting forest’ in 1079. Nearly 1000 years later, the system he established to protect the woodlands still exists. Verderers, Agisters and Commoners manage and care for the New Forest National Park and the animals that roam freely.

Ancient Oaks from the forest were used to build ships for Nelson’s fleet at Buckler’s Hard, a historic village that is well worth a visit, along with the New forest Discovery Centre in Lyndhurst.

Emery Downs, Thatched Cottage
Emery Downs, Thatched Cottage

Camping in the New Forest

Camping in the New Forest is available at a number of sites, some have power and facilities, and others require campers to be fully self-contained. We stayed at a few camping areas around the forest, our favorite was Aldridge Hill, near Brockenhurst. Aldridge Hill has no toilets or showers, so it is best for motor-homes and caravans that have their own ensuite facilities. We toured with a little caravan and happily stayed close by the stream for days to let the kids play freely.

It was my favorite campsite in the forest, we had one of the best pitches – opposite a wooded area with a stream for the kids to play in, views across to the heathlands, and ponies wandering through the site. An icecream van even pulled in one day, which was an unexpected surprise and a treat for the kids.

Camping in the New Forest England
Aldridge Hill Campsite, near Brockenhurst. Ponies in view by our caravan.
Camping in the New Forest England
Playing in the stream by the campsite with new found friends.
Camping in the New Forest England
Aldridge Hill Campsite, New Forest, Hampshire. The kids spent many happy hours swinging from trees into the water.
New Forest Pony, grazing on the heath lands near the campsite.
New Forest Pony, grazing on the heathlands near the campsite. Campers can walk straight into the forest and follow historic paths for miles.

New Forest Ponies

New Forest ponies graze freely throughout the National Park, roughly 3000 of them graze the pastures along with donkeys, cattle, and pigs. They are not technically wild as they are all owned by ‘commoners’ and are rounded up in autumn and spring to be checked for health and young colts are taken out of the herds to restrict breeding.

Donkeys resting in Beaullieu, New Forest Village, Hampshire.
Donkeys resting in Beaulieu, New Forest, Hampshire.

What is a Commoner of the New Forest?

Many privately owned properties within the New Forest National Park have rights attached which allow the property owners to agist restricted numbers of livestock in the New Forest. The commoner pays an annual fee each animal, they also have to brand the animals with a registered ‘mark’ which is listed with the ‘Verderers’ who are a group of 10 people appointed to the job of keeping everything legal.

The Verderers have control over the stallions in the forest to ensure breeding is kept under control.

Looking after the New Forest Ponies – The Agisters

Another group of people, known as the ‘Agisters’ are employed by the Verderers to watch over the animals and keep a check on their health and welfare. They arrange the annual roundup of the ponies and collect the fees from the Commoners. Each pony has its tail clipped in a certain way to prove payment has been made.

Ponies have their tails clipped to prove payment has been made by the Agisters in the New Forest.
Ponies have their tails clipped to prove payment has been made by the Agisters in the New Forest.

Exploring the New Forest is so much fun, plenty of public walking paths meander through the woodlands and most campsites include the free-roaming ponies. Do not feed or touch them though as this encourages them to seek food and can make them a danger to people.

Another place we really enjoyed when touring the Uk and Europe with our little caravan was visiting ‘The Kelpies’ which are amazing Celtic horse sculptures near Falkirk in Scotland.

New Forest, England.
Virginia Creeper covering an old pub in the New Forest
New Forest Ponies, Aldridge Hill.
New Forest Ponies, Aldridge Hill. Drive carefully!
New Forest ponies resting in the main street of Brockenhurst, Hampshire.
New Forest ponies resting in the main street of Brockenhurst, Hampshire. Seeing ponies and donkeys wander the streets of villages, holding up traffic, is one of the unique charms of the region.
New Forest, England.

Air BnB Stays in the New Forest

From Sheperd huts to historic homes, Air BnB offers some amazing stays in the stunning New Forest region of Hampshire. Browse places to stay…

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2 thoughts on “New Forest National Park, England”

  1. I love the New Forest, since I live in Dorset I visit regularly and it always surprises me to see the ponies roaming free and often blocking the road. You captured it so well. I have just come across your blog and I will be reading all that you have written about Australia with great interest, since my husband and I are planning to visit Australia in February.

    • Hello Gilda, Thanks for your comments, I hope you are going to come to Victoria when you visit Australia, head up to the Dandenong Ranges and we’ll have you over for a cuppa! We used to live in Nursling 10 years ago, right on the edge of Southampton and I loved heading into the forest. It was incredible to be able to spend time there with the family last year. Dorset is just brilliant too, we spent a lot of time there and in Devon.


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