Who are the Verderers ?
The Verderers are the guardians of the Commoners and their Rights of Common; they are also the watchdogs of the Forest landscape and may veto development and highways.
They may authorise up to 5,000 acres for timber production (Verderers’ Inclosures) and they must authorise the Forestry Commission work in unenclosed woods.
They are a corporate body set up by the 1877 New Forest Act in which they were charged with managing commoning on the Forest together with inquiring into unlawful inclosures. Subsequent Acts have added to their responsibilities and amended their constitution.
The present Court consists of 10 Verderers of whom 5 are elected and 5 appointed. One is appointed by the Minister of Agriculture, one by the Forestry Commissioners, one by Hampshire County Council and one by the Countryside Commission. The Official Verderer who presides over all is the Sovereign’s representatives. They operate under the New Forest Acts 1877 – 1970.
History of the Verderers
The New Forest was created by King William I in 1079, just 13 years after the Battle of Hastings. This was the land of earlier Jutish settlers known as Ytene. For William, it was ideal for a new hunting ground, a poor, thinly populated district of furzey waste and ancient woodland covering over 200 square miles, yet close to his royal capital of Winchester.
In 1184, Henry II required local knights to undertake unpaid duties in the administration of Royal Forests. In every Forest county, four knights were appointed as Agisters to make arrangements for the feeding of swine in the sovereign’s woods, and to collect “pannage” dues from those turning out pigs into the Forests. He also appointed 12 knights in each county responsible for the safekeeping of his vert and venison.
These knights were the forerunners of the Verderers and Regarders (Regarders held a triennial enquiry – the Regard – into the state of the vert, and accounted for those that trespassed upon it. They formed a central administration for the collection of royal revenue from breaches of Forest Law. The title is no longer used).
The Verderers Hall
The Ancient Verderers Court dates from Norman times and today is one of Britain’s oldest judicial courts. It was originally set up to administer a judicial system that protected the beasts of the New Forest and their woodland habitat. Severe laws ensured that the hunting of deer and wild boar remained the jealously guarded privilege of the King and his followers. Today the Verderers sit in public six times a year and administer the New Forest’s commoning system.
What do they do ?
The Verderers of the New Forest act as regulators of development as well as overseeing commoning on the Forest. They work in conjunction with English Nature and with Forest Enterprise, a government agency, who administer the Crown lands on behalf of the nation. They employ six Agisters who ride the Forest and look after the day to day welfare of the Commoners stock. A clerk and assistant clerk are also engaged in administrative work.
Further, they control almost all forms of development in the Woods and Heaths of the New Forest. They regulate the agricultural use (exercise of common rights) in the New Forest. Within these wide categories, they have a variety of other duties and those duties include:
- Membership of the Court, staff, office and business hours.
- The Court itself, its organisation, meeting dates and regulations, and accidents involving animals within the New Forest.
- The Verderers’ policies on major New Forest issues.
- New bylaws, approved by the Minister of Agriculture; current marking fee rates; subsidy levels and premium schemes.
- The Verderers’ accounts – published in August each year.
- The Atlas of Forest Rights – searches and search fees.
- General: Issuing general Press Releases and keeping details of accidents, past and present, involving animals.
- Keeping and updating useful contacts and addresses.
The Verderers normally employ four Agisters; there are currently six employed. They are the Officers of the Court of Verderers. The Agisters’ roles:
- ensure Forest Bye-Laws are obeyed;
- collect “marking fees” (see below) for Commoners’ stock turned out within the perambulation;
- supervise the welfare and condition of stock on the Forest;
- brand all stock turned out.
The Agisters conduct the “drifts” when ponies are rounded up into pounds for foal branding, worming and tail marking. The tail is cut into 1 of 4 marks (dependent upon the jurisdiction of the particular Agister) to denote depasturing fees have been paid. There are about 15 drifts each year between August and November. One of their most onerous duties is to attend road-traffic accidents involving commonable stock.
The very name Agister is unique to the New Forest. Appointed by the Verderers, five official Agisters deal with the daily management of over 5,000 ponies and cattle which roam wild on 45,000 acres of open forest. An Agister is “on call” day and night and responsible for the welfare of every commonable animal in his part of the forest.
Their task is not an easy one. The Agisters also handle any unfortunate accidents involving animals on the forest roads. The 40mph speed limit has been introduced to curb the number of accidents on unfenced roads
Tel: 023 8028 2052
Fax: 023 8028 3101
Website: Verderers of the New Forest