The New Forest was named Nova Foresta following the Norman Conquest of 1066. The Forest originally covered a larger area than today, stretching from Salisbury to Bournemouth and Southampton Water to the east. The Forest is evenly divided between woodland, open heathland and land set aside for residential and agricultural purposes.
The forest was set aside by William the Conqueror in 1079 as his private hunting ground. With this, many rights of peasants living in the Forest were removed and a strict Forest Law was introduced. Forest Law, among other things, inflicted severe punishments for anyone found interfering with the deer in the Forest, with the penalty of death for killing one.
The peasants were given the right to allow their livestock to roam free on the Forest as a trade off for being prohibted from erecting fences. Fences would have caused unacceptable barriers for the King and his hunting party.
With domestic animals allowed to roam free and an abundence of wild deer in the Forest, saplings were damaged to such an extent that new growth of vegetation was hindered. As a result of this and the growing demand for wood, the first Inclosure Act was passed in 1482. Large parts of the Forest were enclosed to create new woodlands free from the jaws of the domestic animals. The Forest had changed from the hunting ground of the eleventh century to an important source of timber.
As hunting became a less important function of the Forest, the then large numbers of Deer were deemed unnecessary as they caused significant damage to the vegetation. In 1851, the Deer Removal Act was introduced to reduce their numbers.
Conifers push out the oak
Up until the late eighteenth century the Oak was dominant in the Forest. This was to change with the introduction of faster growing softwood conifers.
The oak still had it's advantages and in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it's superior strength and quality led the New Forest Oak to be used in the construction of naval ships at Buckler's Hard, near beaulieu.
The Court of the Verderers, which still sits in the Verderers' Hall, Queen's house, Lyndhurst, was created around the twelfth century to provide officials to deal with offences commited within the Forest. The name Verderers comes from the Norman 'vert' - green. Today it consists of one official, five elected and four appointed verderers.