More than any other National Park in this country I bet most people somehow feel they know the New Forest. We drive through it, travel across it by train, ride or walk on it, or just see numerous photos of animals and visitors appearing to happily coexist in a sort of idealistic Enid Blyton image of what we would prefer the rest of England to look like.
Our parents and grandparents might have camped here and told endless stories of never ending beautiful summers. These in turn have stimulated next generations to feel uniquely linked to these special 220 square miles of what I consider to be part of Britain at its best. I guess these sentiments describe my opinion well.
My wife Victoria and I moved here from London about 20 years ago and since then I have never lost that sense of living in a unique part of the country visited by millions of people visit each year. On which point, average visitor days each year to the New Forest already exceed well over 15 million and that’s set to increase still higher as the UK population expands. This means we really do have to protect and preserve what we have.
About ten years ago we moved from Bartley, near Totton, to the village of Emery Down, just outside Lyndhurst. Something clicked at once with me that this was a very special place. For example, living just a few doors away from where the famous snake catcher Brusher Mills was born (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brusher_Mills).
Across the road is a church war memorial that commemorates so many local young men who perished in both world wars, plus for some reason, a relative of the late Queen Mother and the two sons of the actual Alice in Wonderland (Alice Hargreaves, née Liddell). Alice lived nearby and in 1927 opened our lovely village hall. Not far away the New Forest Inn was allegedly the last place where the Captain of the Titanic, Edward Smith, spent his final night on land before setting sail from Southampton in 1912.
Like many other villages in the New Forest, I consider a church, village hall and pub should become important community focal points (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emery_Down) and I feel privileged to officially look after our church fabric, chair the trustees of the village hall and, of course, frequent the pub. Several years ago I also led a small team that converted the old village telephone box into a library/information point and have been amazed since then at how many people visit this little kiosk in the New Forest from the UK and much further afield (e.g. Australia).
Adding this all up, I was delighted earlier this year to also become a Trustee of the New Forest Heritage Centre to hopefully play a small part with my colleagues in not only helping to tell others about one of the largest remaining tracts of unenclosed pasture, heath and forest land in the UK, but to also help preserve what I think can be described as the ‘peoples forest’ for this generation – and generations to come: To inform and share with the many people who flock to this comparatively unspoilt corner of England that for me, is still a combination of Blyton, beauty and Britain at its best.