Over the last two years, our rewilding has started to encourage wildlife to arrive and thrive. Sometimes we can offer a helping hand and so earlier this year we took delivery of three pigs…
The pigs are an unusual breed called the Mangalitza. The Mangalitza is an Old World breed of pig that is indigenous to Hungary. Its name means ‘hog with a lot of lard’! We already have our lovely conker-coloured rare breed Lincoln Red cattle and we were looking for a suitable local pig breed. We would have liked to have used the Lincolnshire Curly Coat pig but it became extinct in the 20th century.
However, intriguingly we know that some Lincolnshire Curly Coat pigs were exported to Hungary to cross breed with the Mangalitzas. Both breeds are notably woolly and both are noted for their fat! It is tenuous but we like to think there may be some Lincolnshire Curly Coat in their genes. Our three girls came from a breeder in Yorkshire.
The other interesting fact is that Mangalitza piglets are born stripy like the Wild Boar. That means that they might be really good at foraging for their own food. There is certainly evidence that they are hardy enough to live outdoors in the UK very easily and that they are happy in woods and wet places.
So why introduce pigs?
Rewilding is a natural process where the actions of animals disturbing the ground and eating different vegetation creates lots of tiny places for insects and birds to make their homes in. These animals that can disrupt the ground to create these new places are known as the keystone species. They are often missing on our countryside these days. Rewilding projects try to encourage a range of keystone animals. Our cattle act as keystone species – they nibble on scrub and brambles, keeping them from taking over, their dung is fantastic for insects as well as the birds that eat the insects. We are working towards keeping some cattle out all winter so there is more dung outdoors for winter insects.
Pigs on the other hand ‘rootle’. They simply put their snouts into the ground and walk forwards looking for titbits like roots, grubs and fungi to eat. Their strong thickset necks mean that they are like powerful shovels cutting into the ground. We know that a single pig can rootle through 40 acres a year (16ha) and that is why we have only bought three. By breaking up the grassy surface, the seeds of annual wildflowers, shrubs and trees are given space to germinate. The rough turned-over ground provides warm basking spots for grasshoppers and burrowing opportunities for many more bees and insects. By exposing buried seeds, pigs provide access to food for hungry birds during the leanest months.
Ranger Heather popped some wildlife cameras in the pig area (they are settling in a confined area at the moment while we find out more about them). To our delight, we recorded footage of the pigs rootling followed by a blackbird and redwings. It was really cold weather and the birds must have benefited from the pigs digging up food for them.
At the moment the pigs are not near any of the walks at Doddington, but we will soon be letting them out. Watch out for some guided walks coming up to find the pigs and other nature walks. In the meantime here is the trail cam video, and a few photos. Photos with thanks to Lexy Foxley-Johnson.
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