Old customs, New Forest

For centuries, people in the New Forest have been exercising their rights as commoners and grazing their livestock freely. But this ancient way of life is increasingly under threat

A stack of old newspapers is perched on the front seat of the bashed-up Subaru, while in the back is a long stick for fending off cows. At the wheel is Ann Sevier, a 13th generation New Forest commoner whose family has lived here since 1650.

“Hello everybody!” she yells to the livestock as we pull up. We are in Latchmore valley near Fordingbridge, where more than 100 cows and horses belonging to many different commoners have gathered in the cool breeze that tumbles off the surrounding hills, providing respite from biting insects (behaviour known locally as “shading”). It resembles a congregation of wildlife you might see around a waterhole, except the horses have letters branded on their backs to identify who owns them.

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