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Please don't pet the pigs

Five woolly pigs grazing on the heathland. They are brown with curly hair. Gorse in the background.
Woolly pigs on Purbeck Heaths | © National Trust/Mark Singleton

Pigs have again been put out onto part of the Purbeck Heaths National Nature Reserve (NNR). Grazing with cattle, ponies and pigs is crucial in ensuring that the diversity of wildlife across the heaths can thrive. But visitors are being asked not to feed or pet them.

The woolly pigs will roam the central section of the NNR across the expanse of Hartland Moor, Stoborough Heath and the Arne peninsula. The pigs root and dig in the soil which helps to create patches of bare ground, improving the habitat for many of the species which make a home on the heathlands.

On behalf of the seven organisations which manage the Purbeck Heaths, Peter Robertson of the RSPB, said:

“Contrary to what people might think, small areas of bare ground are fantastic for wildlife. They provide nesting sites for many creatures including sand lizards, ants and solitary bees and wasps, and seeds which can struggle to germinate in an unbroken sward can germinate there.

“Also, the dark soil warms up quickly in the morning sun, making a perfect place for reptiles and insects to bask. So, these bare patches are a key part of the mosaic of habitats that makes the Purbeck Heaths such an important place for wildlife.”

The pigs are intelligent, curious and docile, but the partnership is asking people not to feed them or pet them. Peter added:

“The problem is that many people are fascinated by the pigs. But if visitors treat them like pet animals – feeding and stroking them – they will begin to associate people with such attention. The pigs will then run up to anyone expecting to be fed, and they can be quite demanding if they think there is food. This can be alarming, especially as they are fairly big animals.”

The advice for anyone seeing the pigs is:

  • Always keep your distance.
  • Keep your dog on a lead, especially when piglets are present as the sows will be protective of them.
  • Do not feed, call, or pet the pigs.
  • Keep walking and moving and they will ignore you.

The organisations which manage the Purbeck Heaths NNR are the RSPB, the National Trust, Dorset Wildlife Trust, Forestry England, the Rempstone Estate, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and Natural England. The Dorset National Landscape Partnership provides a coordinating function.

Find out more here