The source, Commoners of the New Forest referenced by @Liam in his answer to the question How do you become a New Forester Commoner? implies that for the New Forest to become a mature forest would be a bad thing.

It is vital that the tradition of commoning is maintained, as without the [grazing] stock, the forest would soon become a very different place. The ponies and cattle are the ‘architects’ of the land, feeding on the gorse and brambles that would otherwise become overgrown.

Without this grazing, the scrub would develop into mature forest, reducing the ecological value of the area and affecting the recreational activities visitors enjoy across the forest today.

I understand why it is beneficial to keep brambles in check, and although I have never encountered gorse, it sounds unpleasant to walk through.

But what do the authors of this article mean when they say a mature forest would reduce the ecological value of the area and affect (presumably reduce) the recreational value of the land? Although I am not religious, religious is the only word I can find to describe the experience of hiking through a mature forest.


4 Answers 4


As the English say, the New Forest is not new and it is not a forest.

That is how it has been for centuries and that is how the locals and powers in the area want it to stay.
And that is the whole reason it is undesirable to let it grow into a mature forest.

The open parkland structure of the New Forest is no better but also no worse than mature forest, it is just the choice of the people of the area.
In England, mature forests are rare, too many people, to much pressure and not enough space to let forest alone for centuries, the same happened in other areas with a huge people pressure over a long time.

  • The New Forest was New and a Forest............ in about 1066 but ever since then it's been managed. This is the right answer.
    – user2766
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 13:54

It seems like it would be a combination of loss of the way it has been and of the beneficial effects of grazing.

Grazing can have both positive and negative effects, and can benefit certain species at the expense of others so its all a balancing effect.

Cattle are thought to provide biodiversity benefits in woodlands when grazed at low density since they eat dense vegetation of a low digestibility and break up vegetation mats with their hooves. This opens up the ground layer vegetation and is thought to be beneficial for tree regeneration as well as leading to a greater variety of vegetation types and associated invertebrate and bird assemblages. Because of these perceived benefits there is increasing interest in the use of cattle as a tool for nature conservation management in woodlands.

Impacts of large herbivores on woodlands - Survey of cattle grazed woodlands in Britain

Over the last century human activities have moved away from using woods for their food and livelihoods. The loss of woodland management allowed many sites to become neglected, overgrown and shady. This led to a serious decline in many species that require disturbance and more open conditions, including rare lichens and ground flora. Wood Wise – Woodland Conservation News Autumn 2012 Dunwich Forest ponies Steve Aylward

Overstocking of woodland grazers can cause a loss of plant and animals species and prevent natural regeneration, through soil compaction and overgrazing. But balanced regimes with appropriate grazing pressure can increase habitat diversity, support important wildlife populations and encourage natural regeneration. A lack of grazing often allows more aggressive plants to outcompete and dominate sites.

Woodland grazing – introduction

Several papers report examples of successful use of livestock in forest management in terms of controlling woody understorey vegetation, with benefits to tree growth and in some cases, ground flora. In Britain, stock could potentially play a similar role in helping to eliminate competing vegetation.

The literature is unanimous in that for grazing to be successful it must be applied at a suitable livestock density, and duration of grazing and grazing season be appropriate to the situation.

Individual study: A literature review of the effects of sheep and cattle grazing in plantation forests

The disappearance of grazing from much of British lowland heathland over the last century is thought to be a major contributory factor in the loss of health vegetation by allowing succession towards woodland. The reintroduction of grazing is hindered by the small amount of available information on grazing management methods or on the responses of lowland heath vegetation to grazing.

Grazing of lowland heath in England: Management methods and their effects on healthland vegetation

Its also worth pointing out that most of these mention that there isn't a lot of study on these the effects of grazing.


This is all about forest succession and natural resource management goals. Both are implicit in your question, forest succession defining new forest converting to mature forest and management goals define what's desirable.

If the goal is to have arable land, room to settle (build and live) on, and room to keep livstock, then early succession forest or rather grassland is much preferable to mature forest. This is because early succession stages of forest tend to be more palletable to livestock and are far easier to plow or deforest if need be.

As for more desirable to recreation, that depends on the kind of recreation one hopes for. You and many others appreciate being in a mature forest as a pinnacle of experiencing the outdoors, but in areas known for their picturesque rolling grasslands and roaming herds of livestock, earlier stages of the ecosystem's succession may be much more desirable.

Lastly, note the difference between wilderness versus land managed with varying degrees of intensity. Grazing is one management regime, and it is probably a historic/long-term one, so it may be kept out of tradition and its benefits the area has come to enjoy. The combination of livestock and forestry is called silvopasture, which is an an ancient form of agroforestry. Silvopasture can have significant benefits for agro-ecosystems and farmers' businesses. Managing stages of succession is a key component of many agroforestry systems, and so here we may simply see a case of land managers preferring to keep their agro-ecosystem at earlier stages of succession, allowing them to continue enjoying the uses of land best suited to those earlier stages.


This started out as a comment but turned out too long, sorry if it reads that way:

Gorse is indeed a pain to walk through, as are brmables, Mature forests tend to have a large amount of gorse and brambles and other scrub on the forest floor, and the same reasons why we humans find it uncomfortable to walk through is the reason wild animals do as well. Mature forests also tend to have fewer varieties of small flora than new forests. as the aforementioned scrub blocks the light that otherwise reaches the ground from indeed reaching it, meaning wild flowers etc don't tend to grow. that is mostly what is meant by reduce the ecological value of the area.

As for recreation, walking through a new forest or indeed THE New Forest is quite pleasant, you can see deer and many other examples of wildlife, and see and smell the variety of plant life. its part of the reason camping is so popular in the New Forest so again a Mature Forest lose those attractions for the same reasons

Again cannot stress enough, Brambles and gorse are a pain!!!

  • +1, but I am surprised that a mature forest has brambles. However, my experience with mature forests is totally in the US, mainly in northern California. And where I live, northern Virginia, brambles are a feature of the verges -- once away from the edges of woodland, there is not enough sun for brambles.
    – ab2
    Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 16:51
  • I can only speak for the UK but mature forests tend not to be packed so tightly which leaves more room for light to get in which allows brambles to grow... but then again its the UK so we tend to not get much sunlight anyway... just rain rain and more rain usually, although this year has been an exception Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 11:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.