This week, as autumn officially starts and acorns begin falling from the trees, one of the New Forest’s most fascinating traditions kicks off.

Pannage, also known as ‘common of mast’, happens each autumn when domestic pigs are turned out onto the open Forest to hoover up fallen acorns, which are poisonous to ponies and cattle. As with the Forest’s free-roaming ponies and cattle, the pigs belong to commoners, local people who make use of the common rights attached to their property.

The pigs feast on acorns, beech mast, chestnuts and other nuts from the Forest floor. It’s an important job – acorns are enjoyed by horses but the nut poses a particular threat if eaten in large quantities and can cause severe colic or poisoning.

Traditionally pannage enabled commoners to fatten their pigs for slaughter and salting in the winter. In the 19th century as many as 6,000 pigs were turned out but today that figure is usually in the hundreds as the number of pigs owned by commoners has fallen. Each pig is marked with an identity tag in its ear and has a ring put through its nose to reduce damage to the Forest caused by rooting.

The exact dates for pannage are decided by the New Forest Verderers and Forestry England according to seasonal variations. For example, a pannage season can start towards the end of September and extend to the end of December if there is a glut of acorns.

This year the pigs will be out until Friday 18 November.

Pannage is one of a variety of common rights which are attached to properties in and around the New Forest. Another is the right to pasture, which is the right to graze livestock, including ponies, cattle and donkeys and also some sheep (under a separate common right). Someone who makes use of the common rights attached to their property is known as a practising commoner.

Please keep your distance from the pigs and other livestock, don’t touch or feed them, and drive slowly through the Forest as they often wander onto roads. Autumn rain or fog, low sun and fading daylight can also hinder visibility, so please drive according to the conditions at the time.

For further information regarding the pannage season, please contact the Verderers’ office at The Queen’s House, Lyndhurst, Hampshire, SO43 7NH or telephone 02380 282052. You can also read more about commoning on the Commoners Defence Association website.

Where to buy pannage pork

Pannage pork is a premium product known for its unique, nutty flavour. The meat is in high demand but can be bought from local shops and direct from commoners.

The New Forest Marque website lists local producers and sellers of pannage pork and you can be assured that every product labelled with the Marque logo is genuine New Forest produce.

There are almost 170 members listed on the Marque website; if you are looking for pannage pork, you’ll find local providers in the following categories: