THEY HAVE been dubbed the ancient guardians of the New Forest.

The Verderers administer the commoning system, a unique agricultural practice that allows the Forest’s famous ponies and other animals to graze the landscape.

The group also plays a vital role in preserving the character and appearance of the district.

Now the Verderers have welcomed a new leader following the retirement of Dominic May, who has held the post for the past six years.

The new Official Verderer is former solicitor Lord Manners, who is following in his father’s footsteps.

Speaking at the monthly Court of Verderers in Lyndhurst he said: “My first task is to say how honoured I am to have been chosen.

“Starting out in a post such as this, one often feels that one is standing on the shoulders of giants.

“However, it is my hope and intention to serve the Forest to the best of my ability and be a worthy successor to those giants.

“At the last court many fulsome tributes were rightly paid to my predecessor.

“Since I was appointed in March Dominic has given me an enormous amount of his time and his knowledge to ensure that I hit the ground running and for that I am extremely grateful.”

Married with four children, Lord Manners, 60, lives at North Ripley, near Bransgore.

His father was Official Verderer in the 1980s, when the Verderers helped defeat a controversial Private Member’s Bill that would have resulted in Lyndhurst bypass.

The scheme aimed to ease the gridlock that occurs in the area but conservationists said the proposed new road would have a devastating impact on the countryside surrounding the village.