If you go down to the woods today you may be in for a big surprise. Not from
teddy bears, but from an army of pigs snaffling up a bumper crop of
The mild spring and largely dry summer has yielded a glut
of millions of green acorns, or oak nuts, in the New Forest in
They are poisonous to ponies and cattle but not to
pigs, which have for centuries been let loose to get to them before
they harm otheranimals – a practice known as “pannage”.
only about 200 pigs are needed to polish off the nuts but this autumn
500 have been released two weeks early to cope with the glut. They will
spend the next 60 days munching the acorns before being rounded up in
Jonathan Gerrelli, the forest’s head agister – an
official who manages the commoners who have ancient grazing rights –
said: “Acorns are poisonous to ponies and cattle. If they eat them they
tend to start to bleed internally and then die a horrible death.
“But for some reason they are not toxic to pigs, and at this time of year the New Forest pigs have a field day.
started pannage earlier than usual. This is simply because there is a
very large crop of acorns that are falling earlier due to the sheer
“You can see that the trees are loaded with them this
year, the branches are hanging down under the weight. It must be
because we had a prolonged dry spell over the summer.”
19th century 6,000 pigs were regularly turned out for pannage. As well
as saving the ponies and cattle, pannage also fattens up the pigs for
Nigel Taylor, head of horticulture at the Royal
Botanic Gardens in Kew, said: “It has been a good year for oak trees
and acorns in southern England. We had no late frosts this year to
damage the young structures that become acorns.
“When you have a
period of not much rain but a great deal of sun and light, that then
leads to more energy in the trees and more acorns.”