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Pannage season extended in the New Forest

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Pannage season extended in the New Forest

The Forestry Commission’s Deputy Surveyor announced today that the pannage season will be extended past the usual 60-day period until Sunday 17 December because there are so many acorns (this year pannage started on 11 September and was due to end on 12 November). Pannage is an ancient custom that is still used today by New Forest Commoners, who turn out their pigs into the Forest during the season.  

Pigs do a vital job of eating many of the acorns that fall at this time of year – acorns are tasty for them, but poisonous for the ponies and cattle that roam the area freely.

This autumn is a bumper year for acorns in the New Forest. Oak trees have produced more acorns than usual, one of nature’s mysterious events known as ‘masting’. This is a natural phenomenon where some tree species produce very large crops of seeds in some years, compared to almost none in others. 

It’s not known exactly why mast years occur, however they have been linked to various causes over the years, including weather and climatic.

Part of the fascination of experiencing a mast year is that we don’t completely understand the complex blend of factors that give rise to them and make trees coordinate the production of so much fruit and seed.

Weather and climate can certainly affect fruit and seed production, and as we had such a mild winter and a warm spring it made the crop rather early this year. However, certain trees do go through cycles of mast years, beech for example produces a mast year every five to ten years.

As this is a good seed production year, more of the acorns that fall will naturally regenerate by taking root in the woodland floor to produce saplings.

Across England’s woods and forests acorns and other seeds will be collected from different trees and grown on at the Forestry Commission’s own nurseries. Our nurseries are not just responsible for sourcing seed; they also cultivate young trees of different varieties from seeds.

The nurseries will check the progress of the seeds four times! First to see how well the seeds germinate, then secondly to see how well they survive their first winter and third to assess the stock that will be allocated to all the Foresters. Finally they count the millions of trees when they get dispatched.

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