England’s largest agri-environment scheme has been extended for a further year supporting vital conservation projects and commoning in the New Forest.
The Verderers of the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme protects and enhances the New Forest National Park’s internationally-important wildlife and habitats.
Launched in 2010 as a 10-year agreement with Natural England, it is managed by the Verderers in partnership with the New Forest National Park Authority and Forestry England and will have brought £22 million into the Forest.
The scheme helps the New Forest face the nature and climate crisis. Fragile habitats have been conserved and the commoning scheme has been supported on a large scale, meaning ponies and cattle can continue to roam the landscape and shape the unique habitats through their grazing.
The funding extension is welcome news as Britain moves out of the EU and leaves its agricultural programme.
The HLS scheme has achieved an exceptional amount since 2010:
Restoring wetlands – Returned 20 miles of streams which were artificially-straightened in Victorian times to drain the Forest back to their natural water courses. This improves the carbon storage in wetlands, prevents flooding and supports the habitats of rare species such as the southern damselfly and curlew. On-going repairs are taking place.
Supporting commoning – Crucial funding and expert advice have been provided to hundreds of commoners to continue the traditional system of land management. It also includes a stallion scheme managing the selection and number of stallions which run on the forest each year. This helps to reduce the number of foals born each year and improves the quality of those foals.
Protecting archaeology – The whole 220 square miles of the National Park has been surveyed, leading to 3,000 archaeological sites being identified and recorded, with an on-going programme to manage them.
Educating the next generation – More than 16,500 children have gained a greater understanding of the New Forest through school visits.
Restoring rare heathland, grassland and woodland – Internationally-protected heath, grassland and woodland areas have been restored.