Grazing with Pigs

Reintroducing Grazing To Chinthurst Hill.

Pigs graze like cattle, but fundamentally they also root with their snouts, weakening the plants from the ground up

Since February 2013 Chinthurst Hill Local Nature Reserve, near Bramley, has periodically played host to a small herd of pigs. The five sows consist of two Saddlebacks and three cross breeds which display traits of the Tamworth and Gloucester Old Spot breeds.

A botanical survey in autumn 2012 revealed that the wooded areas of the upper slopes were dominated by bracken and bramble, which provide very limited ecological value in such excess. Mechanical and chemical weed control both have their places, but can be costly and time consuming so a more sustainable, sensitive alternative was sought.

A 1000m fence was completed in late 2012 using chestnut posts harvested on Chinthurst Hill itself, for the purpose of containing livestock and largely following the line of the old boundary banks. Pig grazing is carried out within electric-fenced sub compartments and will reduce the dominance of these invasive species.

Why use Pigs?

Pigs graze like cattle, but fundamentally they also root with their snouts, and in doing so they break up the bracken rhizomes (the underground stems) and bracken roots thereby weakening the plants from the ground up. As they turn the soil they expose the dormant seed of other, more delicate species, which would otherwise be smothered by the more vigorous plants. A more varied flora means a greater wealth of insect, bird and mammal life and ultimately boosts the biodiversity of the site as a whole.

Animal Health regulations dictate stringent movement restrictions where pigs are involved, and to enable our large cattle herd to remain unaffected we borrow, rather than own, these animals. The pigs are the property of a grazier from West End and are on loan to the Trust for the foreseeable future in a mutually beneficial agreement; the grazier’s pigs get free nourishment and the Trust receives natural bracken control.

Free Range Pork

No secret is made of the end product; the grazier ultimately sells to Ellis Fine Foods, but to see the pigs in their roomy enclosures, foraging as nature intended, is as free as free range pork can get!