A herd of wild pigs has been recruited to replace machines and herbicides and control plant growth in an ancient forest.
The trial project is being carried out by the Wyre Community Land Trust near Bewdley in Worcestershire, as part of the Grow with Wyre Landscape Partnership Scheme.
Grow With Wyre is led by the Forestry Commission and was set up to help restore the unique landscape of Wyre and celebrate its rich working history. This £4 million scheme, which is mainly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, is made up of 18 projects, covering biodiversity, community involvement, access, local history, economic regeneration and education.
Over the years, those involved in the management of the Wyre Forest have had a wide range of techniques and equipment available to them, such as small and large machinery and occasionally the use of chemical herbicides to control invasive plants.
A new small-scale pilot project is now using pigs as an environmentally friendly means to help manage the Wyre Forest.
Wild pigs were once an integral part of the woodland landscape in which the natural flora we associate with woodlands evolved. Modern pig management can help maintain these habitats, reducing the need for herbicide and mechanical management and increasing floral diversity.
Mark Cleaver from the Wyre Community Land Trust said: “We hope that the value of using pigs to aid woodland management can easily be demonstrated as part of this pilot project. If successful, the Land Trust will seek to carry out further short trials in other areas of the forest to enhance the forest flora and fauna.”
Following expert advice from Rosemary Winnall of the Wyre Forest Study Group, three pigs are now grazing in an enclosed area of woodland near Uncllys Farm, with permission from the landowners, the Guild of St George and Natural England.
The site chosen was ideal, as it was dominated by bracken and bramble and had a relatively open tree canopy. The open canopy is an important factor as it allows light to reach the forest floor, creating better conditions for the re-establishment of a diverse range of plants.
The pigs will remain in the wood until early winter with the timing of their removal dependent on their impact. They would then return if needed for a similar duration the following year.
Despite the reputation of pigs as destructive animals capable of destroying wood and farmland, managed carefully they are now recognised in the conservation sector for their valuable contribution to woodland management. The behavioural characteristics of pigs are almost impossible to copy using any other form of management.
The results of these trials will be fed into national discussions about the use of pigs in woodland and the value of the naturally-reared traditionally bred pork, which the Land Trust plans to sell in the near future.
The Wyre Forest Landscape Partnership Scheme – Grow With Wyre is being led by the Forestry Commission, with assistance from the Wyre Forest Study Group and a range of other partners, to ensure the long-term social, environmental and economic sustainability of the Wyre landscape.
The Grow With Wyre Landscape Scheme partners, the local community and visitors are now taking an active role in restoring around 72 square kilometres of unique landscape through the delivery of its 18 projects. Each project will be designed to manage the landscape character, heritage and biodiversity that make the Wyre Forest Landscape special.
A Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £2 million is helping to drive the Grow With Wyre Landscape Partnership Scheme forward. The scheme is also being supported with other funding totalling £294,000 from GrantScape, specifically earmarked for rejuvenating the Wyre’s traditional orchards, special trees and ancient hedgerows. A further £74,000 comes from SITA Trust, and funding is also being provided by the Grow with Wyre partners.
The Forestry Commission is the lead partner in the Grow With Wyre Landscape Partnership Scheme, joined by Natural England, Shropshire County Council, Bewdley Development Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Worcester County Council, Wyre Forest Study Group, Wyre Community Land Trust, Wyre Forest District Council and the National Trust.