IT HAS often been described as a slice of Medieval England.

The New Forest, the largest area of unenclosed land in the south, is famous for its ancient customs and traditions.

Many of the residents are commoners - villagers with the right to let their ponies, cows and donkeys roam the landscape.

Autumn sees the annual pannage season, when pigs are turned out to gobble up all the fallen acorns that are poisonous to ponies.

The Forest also has its own set of rules and regulations, all of which aim to preserve its special character.

Most people are familiar with the ban on barbecues, the 40mph speed limit on all unfenced roads and the rule prohibiting swimming at Hatchet Pond - one of the most popular beauty spots in the area.

But many of the by-laws imposed by the Verderers - the ancient guardians of the Forest - are less well known.

Most of them apply to the commoners, the people whose animals munch their way through huge amounts of vegetation each year and prevent the area from turning into an overgrown wilderness.

The Forest even has its own police force - a group of agisters who patrol on horseback to enforce the rules governing the commoning system.

Here are some of the more unusual do's and don'ts, some of which cover annual marking fees.

A commoner must make an "appropriate payment" to the Verderers for any horse, bovine animal or sheep depastured in the Forest before April 1.

No sheep or bovine animal can roam the Forest after March 31 unless it has been marked by the Verderers to show a payment has been made.

No horse can roam the Forest after November 15 unless it has been marked by the Verderers to show a payment has been made.

No pig can roam the Forest until 14 days after it has been inspected, marked and ringed to the satisfaction of the Verderers.

The owner of any entire male horse roaming any part of the Forest must, if required to do so, move the animal to another part of the Forest specified by the Verderers.

No person shall cause or allow any shod horse to be depastured in the Forest.

No person other than the owner, their agent or an agister, can hand feed or attempt to hand feed any horse, bovine animal, sheep or pig depastured in the Forest.

The owner (or their agent) of any bovine animal, sheep, pig or horse lying dead in the Forest must, if required to do so by the Verderers, remove the carcass from the Forest immediately.