The New Forest Association was formed in 1867 when there was a very real threat to enclose all usable parts of the Crown lands for timber production and sell off the remainder. This had happened in many other Royal Forests in the preceding 60 years. Adjacent landowners, many of whose tenants were smallholders relying on common rights for their animals to graze the New Forest to supplement their income, stood to be disadvantaged. The purpose of the Association was to find a way of protecting the rights of the locals and prevent the break-up of the Forest into plantations and ultimately housing units. The founding secretary, W.C.D. Esdaile along with George Briscoe Eyre and Lord Henry Scott provided a focus and worked hard to alert the public to the losses that would occur to the nation if this land was enclosed and lost forever. Two parliamentary reviews, a major London Art Exhibition, scores of letters in the national press and eight years were to pass before the 1877 New Forest Act was made law and the future of the New Forest made certain.
The Association was never intended as a permanent organisation and so for many years after lay dormant until fresh threats to the Forest required its revival. This occurred in the 1890s and again in the 1920s following the birth of the Forestry Commission. There was no subscription for the first fifty years of its existence, funds being subscribed as required by members. Plans for converting the majestic old woods into coniferous timber plantations were put in place and indeed such activities continued to be-devil the New Forest into the 1990s.
Other threats concerned the Association in the years between the wars through the proliferation of the motor-car and electricity pylons. Road 'improvements' at Cadnam caused considerable concern as did the line of pylons proposed to stride across the northern forest. The latter were amended to avoid more than a cursory touch of the Crown Lands but of course remain in full view today over Hale Purlieu in the northern part of the National Park.
Throughout the thirties and forties the Forestry Commission pushed for greater powers to enclose new lands for timber production. They finally achieved their goal with the 1949 New Forest Act, making use of the perceived national need for timber following the war despite the presentations and concerns of the New Forest Association.
The Association after the war went through one of its dormant periods; the possibility of merging with the Commoners Defence Association was even considered at one time. This was deemed inappropriate as the NFA has always been able to take a wider approach to the problems of the Forest then just the commoning issues.
It was unable to address the major issue of 1970, the hardwood felling that was taking place under a 'secret' Forestry Commission, without fresh blood. As has so often occurred in the past the Association was revived and has played a major part in leading the cause of conservation ever since. The Minister's Mandate, putting conservation ahead of timber production dates from this period.
Even during the difficult period of the last fifteen years when many of its members didn't want a National Park but paradoxically wanted a larger one than finally instigated the NFA was able to offer leadership in recognizing the important changes that had taken place in European legislation. This was to affect recreation through the impact of European Habitat law on the camp-sites and the newer '1949' enclosures which had been planted, inappropriately, on important lowland heath.
Since the advent of the National Park the Association has recognised the importance of a good relationship with the Authority and seeks to maintain dialogue to help influence and steer the way to greater protection and recognition of the area that is the New Forest.