HUNDREDS of pigs have been released to hoover up acorns across the New Forest.

As a tradition dating back centuries, the pannage happens to improve the condition of the soil by having the swine consume nuts and acorns found on the ground.

In turn, this protects animals like ponies and cattle, by reducing the risk of being poisoned if they eat too many nuts.

Up to 600 domestic pigs were sent out on Monday by people who occupy the surrounding land in Hampshire and will be brought back on November 8.

Salisbury Journal: Andrew Matthews PAAndrew Matthews PA (Image: Andrew Matthews PA)

Sue Westwood, clerk of the verderers of the New Forest said: “They have a wonderful time while they’re out there

“They’ve got free range of the forest.

“We do always say to people not to get too close – they can be a bit spiteful.”

While Ms Westwood warned against approaching any of the pigs, she insists the animals love pannage as it helps to fatten them up.

She added: “Sometimes we extend the pannage season a bit if we still (have) a lot of acorns and we think that the pigs can still do some good.

“Pannage is one of the old rights of the forest, so it goes back hundreds of years.”