Pigs in Conservation

The use of pigs in conservation is rapidly being recognised as a useful tool. Their main role within the conservation grazing sector is in woodland management, were they can be used to create a near replication of the effects Wild Boar once had on the woodlands of the British Isles, providing invasive species with a natural predator.

They are mainly used to reduce the density of a woodlands ground layer, whilst also causing soil disturbance, which promotes natural regeneration by creating seed beds.  The natural foraging behaviour of the pig’s results in them burying some tree seeds amongst the many that they eat, these buried seeds have increased chances of survival and germination compared to those left on the surface.

Through the clearing of the woodland ground layer, pigs will eat all tree saplings which are small enough. In ancient and semi-natural woodlands, pigs can be used to reduce the number of non-native or unwanted tree species seeding. The main target species for pigs within woodlands are Brambles, Nettles, Bracken, Couch grass, Willow, and Wild Roses and they will cover vast areas efficiently.

Pigs are uniquely highly effective at bracken management, as they happily eat bracken and the rhizomes without being poisoned by the various toxins and carcinogens present in the rhizomes unlike other livestock, although supplementary feeding is required.

The use of pigs to manage woodlands in particular for the reduction of weeds ensures an environmentally friendly solution is used compared to applications of chemicals and the usage of energy intensive machinery.

Pigs are a useful conservation tool in the management of Rhododendron. They can support Rhododendron management, by improving access to the woodland floor for silvercultural operations to commence. They can also be used after Rhododendron removal, to break up the leaf litter allowing light to the woodland floor and natural regeneration to occur, as well as suppressing any new growth of Rhododendron. While pigs will not eradicate Rhododendron themselves, they are an excellent alternative to herbicides and mechanical operations, and can be an integral part of a Rhododendron management plan.

Pigs can also be used for vegetation clearance outside of woodlands. Our pigs can be used in management plans for both urban and rural locations. Example activities include the creation of allotments or community gardens, to the establishment of new woodlands. Pigs can provide economical solutions to vegetation clearance, compared to machinery, as well as being less labour intensive and of greater benefit to the landscape and environment.

Pigs are used to carry out a practice known as Pannage. This involves releasing domestic pigs in woodland in autumn, in order that they may feed on fallen acorns, beechmast, chestnuts or other nuts. Historically, it was a right or privilege granted to local people on common land or in royal forests.  Pannage is carried out to reduce the amount of these nuts on the woodland floor as excessive amounts of these can be poisonous to grazing ponies and cattle. It starts at the end of September and last a few months depending on seasonal variations. To stop pigs causing damage to the woodland floor through rooting, rings are placed through their noses and removed once Pannage has been completed. It is still very much in practices within Britain today, with the New Forest turning out between 200 and 600 each year.

While not only benefiting the landscape, the use of pigs in conservation also ensures the breeds survival as we only use British Saddlebacks, a traditional ‘minority’ breed.

The quality of life enjoyed by our working pigs is exceptional throughout their time with us while they are cared for by our trained staff and volunteers. The welfare of the pigs is significantly improved by their usage in the project as they enjoy a more natural lifestyle where they have, great variety in their diet, suffer from significantly less stress and a massive reduction in boredom related issues due to them being able to display natural behaviour. 

Here are some links to websites and documents collected from different resources

RBST - British Saddleback Breed Profile

Forestry Commission - 6.2.2.1 Woodland Grazing and Pigs

Isle of Islay - Pigs In Bracken by Chloë Randall

Grazing Animals Project (GAP) - Focus on Pigs

British Pig Associations (BPA)