Plea not to treat Purbeck heathland pigs as pets

With the end of winter, woolly pigs have again been put out to roam across part of the Purbeck heathland but there’s a warning for people not to feed or pet the animals.

While the rare breed may look adorable, they are fairly large animals and if they start to associate humans with food, they can be quite demanding in their quest to be fed.

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Pigs on Purbeck heathland
NT / Mark Singleton

Just keep walking and moving and the pigs should ignore people

Encourages diversity of wildlife

The pigs, along with cattle and ponies, roam across Hartland Moor, Stoborough Heath and the Arne peninsula, which are part of the Purbeck Heaths National Nature Reserve (NNR).

As the pigs root and dig in the soil, it helps to create patches of bare ground, improving the habitat for many heathland species and encouraging diversity of wildlife.

Strip of bare land on Purbeck heath

This patch of bare sandy soil was created by a tractor but the idea is that animals should create this sort of environment naturally

“Bare patches are a key part of the mosaic of habitats”

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.”

RSPB Arne senior sites manager Peter Robertson is hosting the BBC Watch team for the third time in a year
RSPB Arne

The outstanding natural environment in Purbeck has attracted the BBC to film Springwatch and Winterwatch at Arne, which has included Peter Robertson being interviewed by presenter Michaela Strachan

“Demanding if they think there is food”

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.”

Pigs on Purbeck heathland
NT / Mark Singleton

The pigs look interesting to approach but people are being asked to stay back

Advice for anyone seeing pigs

  • 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.

Further information

  • More about the Purbeck Heaths is on its website

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