The New Forest is a wonderful place to live year-round. However many locals particularly enjoy autumn when woodland turns vivid shades of red and gold. Another special sight at this time of year is the pigs roaming the Forest. This is also pannage season when domestic pigs are released into the New Forest to eat beech mast, chestnuts and other nuts, including acorns, as green acorns, in particular, are poisonous to the ponies and cattle that graze the Forest.
This year pannage started on Monday 19 September. The dates are decided by the New Forest Verderers and the Forestry Commission and are based on seasonal variations. Pannage lasts for a minimum of 60 days with the season extended during times of exceptional acorn falls. This is an ancient practice (also known as Common of Mast) which goes back to the time of William the Conqueror, who founded the New Forest in 1079.
Up to 600 pigs will work their way through the Forest eating the fallen acorns and other nuts. The different breeds that you might see include Tamworth, Gloucestershire Old Spot, British Saddleback and Wessex Saddleback, as there isn’t a specific breed of New Forest pig.
During the pannage season also look out for the local artisan bakeries and farm shops selling piggy-shaped biscuits to celebrate this ancient practice.