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We're using pig power to give nature a home

Last modified: 03 October 2014

Fluffy pigs

The unusual Mangalitsa pig is perfectly adapted for helping the recovery of heathland

Image: The RSPB

The RSPB has recruited the help of some unusual volunteers to help restore heathland and give nature a home on one of its reserves.

For the first time the charity has introduced a herd of six Mangalitsa pigs to ‘pig out’ at its Arne nature reserve, in Dorset, to help restore a seven hectare site back to its natural healthland through wild grazing.

This is the first time that the RSPB has enlisted the help of this breed of pig, a more environmentally friendly option than machinery, to undertake a restoration project on one of its reserves.

Unlike traditional pigs found in the UK, the Mangalitsa pig is unusual as it grows a hairy ‘fleece’ much like a sheep and is the only pig in England to have this distinctive long coat.

The six rare breed pigs will be joined by six Berkshire pigs as they get their snouts stuck into the land at Arne that is covered in bracken and pine needles – six inches deep in places – for around six months.

Mini bulldozers

Once complete the hope is that the ‘mini bulldozers’ will have created a perfect habitat for species like the Dartford warbler, stonechats, smooth snake, nightjar and sand lizard.

Mark Singleton, RSPB Dorset reserves operations manager, said: “This is the first time that the RSPB has used pigs to graze on one of its reserves. It is an experimental project that we hope will produce fantastic results for nature at our Arne reserve.

“Usually we would hire diggers and other machines to remove all of the pine needles from the site but that would have negative impact on the environment. We are hoping these pigs are able to do the same job in a much more environmentally friendly way, and are much more fun.

“Last year’s State of Nature report highlighted that nature in the UK is in trouble, 60% of species have declined in the past 50 years. This project is one of many that the RSPB is carrying out to tackle this problem and try to reverse these declines.”

Imported into the UK in 2006, the Mangalitsa pig can be found making its home in farms, woodland and even on occasions in homes as they are easily house trained.

These pigs aren’t alone in the RSPB’s conservation grazing projects. At RSPB Minsmere, Konik ponies help management of habitats by controlling scrub encroachment, creating a mosaic of different vegetation types. Exmoor ponies are assisting at RSPB Broadwater Warren, while Manx sheep have grazed at many reserves around the UK.

David Burton, senior advisor at Natural England, said: “There are many benefits to conservation grazing. Grazing animals helped shape many of our semi-natural habitats, which developed rich and diverse wildlife communities.

“Our grasslands, meadows, moorland and heathland habitats were all shaped by human activity and grazing is often the most effective and sustainable way to maintain them and their huge variety of plants and wildlife.”

Nested at the base of the Purbeck Hills, RSPB Arne is a peninsular that juts out into Poole harbour. Visitors can enjoy spectacular scenery and beautiful views while marveling at the abundance of wildlife that the heath, woodland and harbour have to offer.

Giving Nature a Home

Giving Nature a Home is the RSPB’s campaign, aimed at tackling the housing crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their own gardens and outside spaces – whether it by planting pollen-rich plants to attract bees and butterflies, putting up a nestbox for a house sparrow, or creating a pond that will support a number of different species. The charity hopes to inspire people across the UK to create a million new homes for nature.

How you can help

Nature in the UK is in trouble and some of our more familiar garden species are amongst those suffering serious declines. We can all help by giving nature a home where we live.

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