FEARS over the future of the New Forest have been raised for when £19m of EU funds stop in early 2020, as the UK heads for Brexit.

Money from the area’s main Higher Level Stewardship Scheme (HLS), which is England’s largest conservation scheme, will cease – concluding 10 years of investment in projects, including millions of pounds paid to Commoners who turn their animals out to graze.

Funding from the HLS has supported commoning business grants, the New Forest Land Advice Service, microchipping ponies, upgraded the Beaulieu Road Sale Yard and supported almost 500 Commoners, who will lose vital cash and hundreds more who claim funds from the EU funded Basic Payment Scheme.

Commoner’s Defence Association (CDA) chairman Dr Tony Hockley fears without funding livestock numbers will dwindle, threatening the Forest with low grazing, turning grass to scrubland.

In the wake of the referendum two years ago the Government guaranteed funds, however a funding gap is threatening to open up before new British-made arrangements are launched.

Now The Forest Farming Group, which include the Verderers together with the New Forest National Park Authority, the CDA, the National Farmer’s Union, Natural England and the CLA, is lobbying the Government to secure future funding for the forest when the HLS ends in February 2020.

In yesterday’s Verderers Court official Verderer Lord Manners said: “In particular, we are seeking ongoing support for commoning because of course the Verderers’ Grazing Scheme is funded by the current HLS. The group is actively lobbying both politicians and civil servants to make a case for the Forest to have a further bespoke scheme. We believe that our efforts are being favourably received but the current state of Government policy does not enable me to report that there are any concrete proposals for future funding.”

He added: “In view of the state of Government policy, we have suggested that the current HLS scheme should be rolled over for a further two years to allow the Government time to formulate detailed proposals for areas such as the New Forest.”