Michael Wale reports on Pannage pork, and how New Forest Smallholders could benefit from a Government ruling…

Smallholders based on the New Forest are hoping that official recognition of Pannage pork, the result of pigs kept for 60 days on the Forest every autumn, will result in a better return for the pork produced. The annual procedure dates back to William the Conqueror. But in February 2023 the Government’s Geographical Indication placed Pannage pork, as it is known, on a level with other protected agricultural products such as Melton Mowbray pork pies, and Welsh leeks. The New Forest with its 1,000 acres of grazing, and protected peacefulness has been particularly attractive to would-be smallholders over the years. Those who own land on the Forest are known as Commoners and have the right to let their pigs out for sixty days from mid-September to harvest the acorns, which prove poisonous to horses and cattle, and as a bonus there are beech nuts to augment this diet.

Nigel Forsyth and his Tamworth pigs

Most smallholders have done another job before they arrive here. Such a person is Nigel Forsyth, who first earned his living in London running his own company that was involved in the world of branding setups. He sold his first company and set up another, and sold that one as well, amassing enough finance to do what he really wanted to do – live a more environmental and country-surrounded life. He had started with a weekend cottage when he was still based all week working in London. But then he got “something to play with”. Ten acres, and he was interested in bee keeping, learned how to keep them and kept two hives. The Forest fascinated him so he became a Forest Ranger to learn how it worked. As he admits “Helping the people who could do it It got me interested in the skills used in the Forest”. He confesses : “I didn’t set out to be a smallholder. I got tempted into it”.

And the pigs that tempted him into keeping them were Tamworths. He explains: “Tamworths are good for spending time foraging outdoors, because they tend to put on a lot of coat. Being tech-wise, Forsyth put a tracker radio link on one of his pigs when they were let out on the Forest, and found that they could travel up to 14 kilometres in a day.

Pannage pork is air dried from the pigs that have been let out onto the Forest. Air drying preserves and accentuates the flavour. Salting the Pannage pork helps to preserve it. Together with the largely acorn diet these procedures result in a buttery, nutty, flavour. Andrew Parry-Norton is chairman of the Commoners Defence Association, who look after the environment alongside the Verderers who are the equivalent of the magistrates of the Forest, and the Agisters, who look after the welfare of the stock, who are let out on the Forest. These historic positions all date back to the days of William the Conqueror. When the pigs are turned out for the Pannage period they have to be registered and be fitted with several rings around their snouts so that they cannot root up anything of value, such as cricket pitches and other valued parts of the Forest.

This article extract was taken from the December 2023 edition of The Country Smallholder. To read the article in full you can buy the issue here.

To receive regular copies of The Country Smallholder magazine featuring more articles like this, subscribe here.

For FREE updates from the world of smallholding, sign up for The Country Smallholder newsletter here.