THE VERDER­ERS’ COURT

Landscape (UK) - - Land Scape -

The verder­ers date back to Saxon and Nor­man times, and dur­ing the medieval pe­riod, ev­ery Royal for­est had its own verder­ers’ court. Th­ese were orig­i­nally set up to man­age and en­force the for­est laws that the Crown had laid down. The Court of Verder­ers is the old­est court in the land, with the ex­cep­tion of the Coro­ner’s Court. The verder­ers’ cur­rent pow­ers stem from an Act set up by Par­lia­ment in 1877, and they rep­re­sent the in­ter­ests of the com­mon­ers, as op­posed to those of the Crown. Elected verder­ers now reg­u­late the ex­er­cise of com­mon rights in the for­est and also have re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in­volv­ing de­vel­op­ment con­trol and con­ser­va­tion. There are 10 verder­ers: five are elected by the com­mon­ers. The Depart­ment for En­vi­ron­ment, Farm­ing and Ru­ral Af­fairs, the Forestry Com­mis­sion, the Na­tional Park Au­thor­ity and Nat­u­ral Eng­land each ap­point the oth­ers. The of­fi­cial, or head verderer is the chair­man of the court and is ap­pointed by the Queen. To as­sist them in their work, the verder­ers em­ploy five ag­is­ters, re­spon­si­ble for su­per­vis­ing the wel­fare of the com­mon­ers’ ponies, cat­tle, don­keys, pigs and sheep which graze the for­est. They also at­tend any road ac­ci­dents in­volv­ing an­i­mals in the for­est. The court meets in the Verder­ers’ Hall, which it­self dates back to 1388, at the Queen’s House in Lyn­d­hurst once a month. At th­ese ‘open court’ ses­sions, the pub­lic are able to ad­dress the verder­ers on mat­ters which of­fi­cially must be ‘rel­e­vant to some as­pect of the New For­est or its man­age­ment, be brief and phrased in mod­er­ate lan­guage’. They must climb an an­cient, rough-hewn wooden dock to make their ‘pre­sent­ments’; a re­minder of the orig­i­nal puni­tive func­tion of the court.

The Queen’s House in Lyn­d­hurst, home to the Verder­ers’ Hall.

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