The pigs have been released at the start of the Pannage season, or ‘Common of mast’. The animals are allowed to wander during a set time in Autumn to feast on the acorns and other nuts that have fallen.
In large quantities they are poisonous to horses and cattle. Drivers have been urged to watch out for them, and the public is asked not to approach or feed them. They will be roaming the forest until November 11th.
The practice dates back to the time of William the Conqueror, who founded The New Forest in 1079. A total of around 600 pigs and piglets will work their way through the forest eating the fallen acorns, beechmast and chestnuts. It is the only time of the year that they are allowed to ‘roam’ the open forest and the rest of the time they are kept in their smallholdings. The practice of Pannage is somewhat of a dying tradition.
In the 19th century the number of pigs released was as high as 6,000. It has been abandoned in many parts of the country but is still observed every year in the New Forest. Pannage will last for a minimum of 60 days and is vital because acorns are poisonous in large quantities to cattle and ponies.
It can cause colic, which can prove fatal. Pigs, however, are not poisoned by the acorns as it is believed they spit out the toxic skins. They are only allowed to forage if they have been fitted with a ring through their nose. This enables them to search on the forest floor for food but stops them rooting into the ground with their snouts, causing damage to the Forest.