Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Acorns and the Rights of Pannage

(Click on photos to enlarge)

I thought of this yesterday when I was having to pick up and remove bucketfuls of acorns from our top field, where Itsy is going for the winter now. Some ponies develop a real taste for acorns and whilst there is grass to nibble, they shouldn't be a problem, but as the acorns can cause a cumulative Vitamin B deficiency in horses, I'm leaving nothing to chance. I know of a pony who died from acorn poisoning and every year on the New Forest, there are acorn poisoning fatalities. They are also fatal to cattle, of which there are ever increasing numbers grazing the Forest.

These fatalities happen despite the Commoners taking advantage of the Rights of Pannage (or 'common of mast') and turning their pigs loose on the Forest. The exact date for the pigs to be turned out varies from year to year and is decided by the Verderers*, as does the exact ending date - in 2006 for example the season was extended to December because of the extenstive acorn crop. The third week of September is the norm for them to be turned out, but I was there in early September and there were already some pigs out. Breeding sows may be turned out all year round as long as they return to their holding overnight - though this is a common practice, rather than an actual Right. The minimum time for the Pannage duration is 60 days. The pigs will happily eat fallen crab apples and beech mast too. Between 200 and 600 pigs are turned out on the Forest each Autumn, a fraction of the numbers in Victorian times, when every cottager had a few pigs and something like 6,000 were turned out. Nowadays each pig can be identified by an ear tag, and they also supposed to have a ring through their nose to stop them rooting too deeply for food.

I know in past times in the countryside, small boys were paid (a piffling amount no doubt!) by the sack for acorns which they had collected and which would help fatten a village pig.

* The Verderers (the word comes from the French : vert, meaning green and associated with woodland) were originally men in charge of the Royal Hunting Forests of William the Conqueror. They were in charge of judicial matters and dealt with more minor infringements of Forest law. A Chief Justice was appointed to travel the circuit and deal with more serious matters. In Victorian times, a Commoner had to hold 75 acres or more in the Forest, with Commoners' rights attached, before he could be considered as an Agister. They controlled the grazing and health of the animals turned out on the Forest, made local byelaws and regulated the rights of common. Now DEFRA, the Forestry Commission, Hampshire County Council and the Countryside Agency control the Verderer's Court, whose headquarters is still in Lyndhurst. Other verderers still exist in the Forest of Dean and Epping Forest.


Kim said...

For a moment there, I thought you were going to say you'd bought a couple of pigs :) Fascinating reading about the Verders and Commoners, and I loved your earlier posts about your visits to the Southampton Museum, and especially the two earlier poems. Lovely :)

Kim x

Arlene Grimm said...

How interesting....I had never heard of acorn poisoning. Love your posts as always, I always learn something new.

nita x said...

jennie id never heard of that before, acorn poisoning or the pigs being turned out in the forest, lovely history. and i also thought you was about to say you'd got two pigs LOL. very interesting read thank you. :)