Pigs in the New Forest are enjoying an extended pannage season, after this autumn’s bumper crop of acorns has poisoned a significant number of animals. Pannage is the ancient practice of turning out pigs into the forest to fatten and to eat up the acorns that are so poisonous for the ponies and cattle that roam there. Pannage normally lasts for 60 days-from September 9 to November 7-but, this year, the Forestry Commission has granted an extension to December 15.

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‘We lost 31 ponies and 12 cattle by only halfway through the season,’ reports Sue Westwood, clerk to the Verderers of the New Forest. ‘Normally, we only lose about half a dozen animals, but it’s a mast year.’

Mast years are a natural phenomenon, thought to be due to climatic conditions, where some tree species produce very large crops of seeds-which is why there has been a bumper crop of apples. Local vet Philip Hughes adds: ‘There are carpets of acorns and we’re seeing far more deaths. Forest animals have ad lib access to acorns so, by the time we see the signs, it’s too late.’

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