Every autumn in the New Forest, up to 600 domestic pigs and piglets are released into the forest by their ‘commoner’ owners to munch up the fallen acorns – green acorns in particular – beech mast, chestnuts and other nuts which are poisonous to the ponies, donkeys and other cattle; it a great example of nature taking care of itself.
It is the only time of year that the pigs are allowed to ‘roam’ the open forest, the rest of the time they are kept in their smallholdings by the commoners.
The practice – which lasts for at least 60 days – is known as ‘Pannage’ (it is also known as Common of Mast) and goes back to the time of William the Conqueror, who founded The New Forest in 1079.
It was once commonplace up and down the country, but the New Forest is one of the last places that it still occurs (in the 19th century the number of pigs released was as high as 6000).
You can usually find the pigs roaming the forest floors from around the second week in September, or whenever the acorns begin to drop from the oak and beech trees. The exact Pannage dates are decided by the New Forest Verderers and the Forestry Commission based on seasonal variations.
New Forest pigs must also be fitted with a ring through their nose which still enables them to forage through leaf litter and surface vegetation but stops them from rooting into the ground with their snouts causing damage to the Forest.
Some of the different breeds of pig that you can find ‘hoovering’ in the New Forest include Tamworth, Gloucestershire Old Spot, the British Saddleback and the Wessex Saddleback. There isn’t a specific breed of New Forest pig.
The iconic, four-star, Balmer Lawn Hotel, located on the edge of the village of Brockenhurst, is the perfect base to witness this ritual, with pigs roaming just yards from the hotel.
A special ‘Pigs in the Forest’ package has been created, with overnight, midweek stays, from £78 per person (two sharing a room), which includes a cream tea, a dinner allowance of £30 per person (for food) and a full breakfast. Room upgrades from £20 per room, subject to availability.
The deal is valid for stays from 8 September 2019. Call 01590 623 116 (www.balmerlawnhotel.com).
For general information about the New Forest visit www.thenewforest.co.uk