How to Rewild

Act Like a Pig

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Act Like a Pig




What You Can Do

Wild Boar are valuable agents of chaos which used to be widespread across Britain. Their rooting behaviour restores grassland to a much more biodiverse system.

But nowadays Wild Boar are missing from many of our landscapes. In their place, we can use pigs to recreate this rooting. In the absence of pigs, humans can give rooting a try by hand and with machines, often with extremely effective results.

What is Rooting?

Rooting is often also known as ‘rootling’ – it’s when pigs snuffle around, turning over turf to reveal the soil beneath. They do this to reveal the roots of plants, which are then eaten. The traditional ring through pigs’ noses was partly used to stop them from rooting, as this behaviour can leave a densely-populated pig field as a complete mudbath in winter.

But this same behaviour is very valuable at lower densities, where it creates new opportunities for seeds to germinate. The rotavation effect also reduces soil compaction and breaks up matted grassy sward. Without pigs, it can take decades for an intensively-grazed grassland to be restored to health, as the grasses will remain dominant.

How to Root

Pigs and Wild Boar are, unfortunately, much better at rooting than humans. But we can learn from the way they do it, and use this to inform our own strategy. Their behaviour is:

  • Seasonal (different plants are eaten throughout the year)
  • Localised (they’ll spend some time in one place, then move on)
  • Random (they’ll move around in a fairly uneven pattern)

We can replicate the activity of rooting using a rotavator or even a spade on a small scale, but following the same kind of patterns as a pig will result in a more biodiverse effect.

The same effect can also be created when new ponds are excavated, if the turf is stripped, then dropped back into place as jumbled lumps on the raised banks. We’ve seen this have a dramatic impact at our pilot project, where it has completely transformed the plant life of these areas, from a grass-dominated system to a thistle-dominated system.

Rewilded woodland
You may see a flush of 'agricultural weeds' after rooting takes place. These can still have high value for biodiversity, with flowers and seedheads, but long term management will reduce their dominance.

What is the Impact?

The surface of the soil in a wild ecosystem is usually quite lumpy, rather than flat. But in a mature grassland which has been mown for years, it tends to become flatter over time. This reduces the potential biodiversity, as every lump and bump in a grassland is a tiny microclimate – humid, cold northern dells and hot, dry southern slopes.

By recreating this microterrain, we not only increase the diversity on a granular level, but also expose the seeds in the soil to the sunlight. This allows trees and wildflowers to germinate, reducing the dominance of grasses and allowing more delicate species to appear. Invertebrates, too, value the lumps and bumps, and they in turn feed birds and mammals.

However, you may well find that in nutrient-enriched pastures, degraded arable land, and higher nutrient habitats (e.g. water meadows), the resulting flush of vegetation is dominated by only a few species. The main plants to appear could be Creeping Thistle, Fleabane, Ragwort, Dock or other ‘agricultural weeds’. Over time, cutting these species annually (or even twice annually – once in late winter) can help to increase the plant diversity.

Having grazers on the land will also greatly contribute to wildflower diversity. Getting the right livestock density is a balancing act, and it will take some time to work out the right level, which varies from one place to another.