THE New Forest’s ancient farming traditions have received a boost after Hampshire County Council bought land at Rockford Common near Ringwood for commoning.

The council bought 15.78 acres as part of a partnership project between the New Forest National Park Authority, New Forest Trust, National Trust, Verderers, Commoners Defence Association, New Forest Association, The New Forest Pony Breeding and Cattle Society and Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.

Commoning is the traditional system of farming in the New Forest and involves those with common rights allowing their stock to graze the commons with additional land being used to provide extra winter grazing and fodder.

A spokesman for the council said recent high prices of land within the New Forest has made it increasingly difficult for commoners to be able to purchase the essential extra land they need to allow commoning to continue.

The long-term management of the land has been passed to the New Forest Trust, which will decide how the land should be used to maximise the benefit to commoners. In the meantime the land has been let to a local commoner.

County council leader Ken Thornber said: “Commoning is of significant importance to the New Forest and dates back to 1079AD when the Forest was declared a royal hunting ground by King William I.

“Today, more than 8,000 ponies and cattle graze openly on the Forest, and ensure that it does not become overgrown with brambles, gorse and other coarse plant growth.

“Commoning also ensures that the New Forest remains a treasured asset for recreation and tourism, as well as one of the major lowland pasture woodlands in Europe, and the county council’s contribution towards safeguarding this ancient practice is good news.”

Alison Barnes, chief executive of the New Forest National Park Authority, said: “The purchase of Rockford Farm has been a key stepping stone in bringing together all of the stakeholders to discuss and agree a shared strategy for future support for commoning.

“If commoning is to continue, it is essential that joint partnership schemes develop and grow in strength.”

Richard Manley, chairman of the New Forest Trust, said: “The trust was created for exactly this kind of situation and is delighted to take on the lease and management of this land for the benefit of the Forest and its commoners .”