Two pigs which helped regenerate an overgrown area of Kent coastal habitat by chomping through almost an acre of ivy and brambles are about to leave the county to embark on a new mission – to help preserve their rare breed.
Mangalitza sows Flora and Lisa were brought to Steps Bank in St Margaret’s Bay three years ago by The Bay Trust, which was looking for a natural way to transform the land into a biodiverse open-canopy woodland without the use of heavy machinery.
The environmental education charity’s Food Growing Manager, Sean Giles, who has been looking after the sows, says: “They’ve done a great job of clearing the area. They’re the next best thing to using wild boar. They certainly have a very healthy appetite: they once escaped from their enclosure and ended up in the tea room looking for food. We had to entice them back with cakes but it took a whole tray to get them there!”
As well as clearing woodland, wallowing in mud and enjoying having their ears rubbed, the sows have been educating local school children. Pupils have been learning to inspect the animals to ensure they are healthy, as part of their GCSE studies.
Now Flora and Lisa’s scrub-clearing work is done, they are heading for pastures new in Norfolk to help ensure the survival of their line. “The sows are very placid and friendly and we will all miss their funny ways,” says Sean.
The breed, of which there are three types (the Red, Flora and Lisa’s blood line; Blonde; and Swallow Bellied) was almost extinct in the 1990s, with a worldwide population of less than 150 sows – but thanks to the work of dedicated breeders such as William Scott, Flora and Lisa’s new owner, the Mangalitza has a rosier future.
William, a former Mangalitza Breed Representative for the British Pig Association, plans to breed Flora and Lisa with a Red boar at his Frogs Abbey Farm in Welney.
“I trawled through all the records of the British Pig Association to find the purest Red boars and sows and The Bay Trust’s sows were close to the best in the country,” says William.
“They’ve been cross-bred once in their great-grandparents’ lineage so by putting them across a Red boar that’s genetically the furthest away from them, the piglets will be almost pure bred within three to four generations.”
Sows can produce three litters in two years but William will be taking things more slowly, and hopes Flora and Lisa will have three litters each over the next two-and-a-half years.
“We plan to keep one boar and two sows from the litters and breed those with the genetically next-best Red boar,” explains William. “We want to build up to eight or nine sows and four or five boars. Then we can use the piglets for a mixture of produce and breeding.
“We’re working with farmers in Germany, Austria and Hungary to bring more Red pigs back to the UK but ultimately we will get to the point where we don’t need to bring any more in.”
For more about the work of The Bay Trust, including its Steps Bank ecological land management project, visit www.baytrust.org.uk.