Pannage pigs ready to get gobbling in the New Forest
HUNGRY hogs will roam free in the New Forest from Monday as the annual pannage season gets under way with a big crops of acorns expected.
Every autumn around 600 domestic pigs and piglets, owned by commoners, are allowed out to roam the national park to eat the nuts, as well as chestnuts and beechmast, which are poisonous to the grazing animals.
The sight is a big draw for visitors but the public is regularly warned to keep clear, not feed them and keep dogs on a short lead when nearby.
Forestry England’s recently appointed Deputy Surveyor of the New Forest, Craig Harrison, said: “As a nation of animal lovers I understand that some people want to get up close to pigs and other forest animals, but it’s important to admire from a safe distance and not to feed or pet them.
"The pigs are doing an important job of eating acorns that fall here at this time of year – green acorns are tasty for them, but poisonous for the ponies and cattle that roam freely.
"Even though the piglets may look cute, their mothers won’t be happy if you get too close and under no circumstances should people try to give them any food."
He added: "The warm and wet spring and summer that we’ve experienced means that the trees have had a good growing period and will produce a fine crop of acorns, so the pigs should have plenty to eat!”
A variety of breeds are likely to be turned out this year including including Tamworth, Gloucestershire old spot, and the British and Wessex saddlebacks.
Pannage has been a tradition since the time of William the Conqueror, and usually runs for around 60 days. The start of the season varies according to the weather and when the acorns fall, with exact dates set by Forestry England and the verderers. This year it will end on Sunday 14th November.
Pigs roam across the Forest during pannage and can often be spotted in locations including Burley, Bramshaw and Bolderwood.
Commoners pay a fee for each pig which must all be marked with an ear-tag and have a ring put through their noses to limit ground damage by rooting. Any unmarked animals running on the Forest are in breach of verderers bylaws which can lead to a fine of up to £200 for the owner.
Breeding sows are sometimes permitted to stay on the open Forest after the end of pannage but only if agreed in writing by the Deputy Surveyor for a specified period.
Property owners are also warned it was their responsibility to ensure land is properly fenced to stop animals getting in.