It seems that Gilbert White had some sympathy with the poor of his district, who had free spirits among them who were prepared to stand up to the nobility.
At present the deer of the Holt are much thinned and reduced by the night hunters, who perpetually harass them in spite of the efforts of numerous keepers, and the severe penalties that have been put in force against them as often as they have been detected, and rendered liable to the lash of the law. Neither fines nor imprisonments can deter them, so impossible is it to extinguish the spirit of sporting which seems to be inherent in human nature.
General Howe turned out some German wild boars and sows in his forests, to the great terror of the neighbourhood, and, at one time, a wild bull or buffalo; but the country rose upon them and destroyed them.
A very large fall of timber, consisting of about one thousand oaks, has been cut this spring (viz., 1784) in the Holt forest: one fifth of which, it is said, belongs to the grantee, Lord Stawell. He lays claim also to the lop and top; but the poor of the parishes of Binsted and Frinsham, Bentley and Kingsley, assert that it belongs to them, and assembling in a riotous manner, have actually taken it all away. One man, who keeps a team, has carried home for his share forty stacks of wood. Forty-five of these people his lordship has served with actions. These trees, which were very sound and in high perfection, were winter-cut, viz., in February and March, before the bark would run. In old times the Holt was estimated to be eighteen miles, computed measure from water-carriage, viz., from the town of Chertsey, on the Thames; but now it is not half that distance, since the Wey is made navigable up to the town of Godalming, in the county of Surrey.
The Wey joins the Thames, so timber could be sent there, and on to dockyards along the Estuary and into Kent. Winter-cut trees were easier to transport, as the sap was not running beneath the bark, and the wood was appreciably lighter in weight.
Within the present limits of the forest are three considerable lakes, Hogmer, Cranmer, and Wolmer, all of which are stocked with carp, tench, eels, and perch: but the fish do not thrive well, because the water is hungry, and the bottoms are a naked sand.
A circumstance respecting these ponds, though by no means peculiar to them, I cannot pass over in silence; and that is, that instinct by which in summer all the kine, whether oxen, cows, calves, or heifers, retire constantly to the water during the hotter hours; where, being more exempt from flies, and inhaling the coolness of that element, some belly deep, and some only to mid-leg, they ruminate and solace themselves from about ten in the morning till four in the afternoon, and then return to their feeding. During this great proportion of the day they drop much dung, in which insects nestle, and so supply food for the fish, which would be poorly subsisted but from this contingency. Thus Nature, who is a great economist, converts the recreation of one animal to the support of another! Thomson, who was a nice observer of natural occurrences, did not let this pleasing circumstance escape him.
He says, in his “Summer,”
“A various group the herds and flocks compose; . . . on the grassy bank Some ruminating lie; while others stand Half in the flood, and, often bending, sip The circling surface.”
White is more aware than many modern people of the cycle of life! These Sussex heifers were beside the Little Stour River in July 2020.