THE Forestry Commission has been accused of breaking the law by allowing householders in the New Forest to turn grazing land into parking spaces.

The Verderers – the ancient guardians of the forest – have criticised the commission for awarding licences that have resulted in verges being covered in gravel.

Official verderer Dominic May claims the organisation is selling off parts of the landscape for commercial gain, depriving ponies of food.

Speaking at the monthly Court of Verderers he said: “In none of these cases was Natural England consulted before the damage was done, in direct contravention of the Habitats Regulations under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

“This disgraceful policy of commercialisation of our common land has to stop.”

Referring to an area at Woods Corner, near Burley, he said: “This has been licensed by the Forestry Commission for a fee of £4,000 without reference to the Verderers and without the consent of Natural England. This is illegal.

“We are spending £2 million a year to restore the New Forest to favourable condition.

“Included is a verge restoration project, stopping illegal parking on the roadside and restoring the grazing land.

“But we find ourselves in the absurd situation whereby the Forestry Commission is at the same time selling licences which destroy these very areas. It’s bonkers.”

Looking directly at deputy surveyor Bruce Rothnie, the Forestry Commission’s most senior officer in the forest, he added: “Gentlemen, we are appalled.”

Speaking after the meeting Mr Rothnie said: “I have read the official verderer’s statement and will respond directly to him and the court once I have taken the necessary time to consider the matters raised.”

It follows a speech, known as a presentment, made at the July meeting of the court by the Commoners’ Defence Association (CDA), which represents the owners of the ponies, cattle and donkeys that roam the Forest.

CDA chairman Graham Ferris said 60 square metres of land at Bull Hill, Pilley, had effectively been sold off by the Commission.

He added: “Grazing (land) at the back of a house has been levelled and covered in gravel for a car park accessed by a small wicket gate.

“Licensing for short-term gain what would otherwise be illegal encroachment is morally indefensible. It sets a terrible example and must stop if the New Forest is not to be ruined forever.”