IT'S THE 1,000-year-old tradition that enables porkers in the New Forest to make pigs of themselves.

Every autumn hundreds of pigs and piglets are released so they can gobble up fallen acorns that are potentially toxic to ponies and cattle.

The annual 60-day feast, known as pannage, is regarded as a vital part of the Forest's eco-system.

Pannage is often extended to help pigs hoover up vast numbers of acorns littering the ground.

But a comparative shortage of the tasty nuts means this year's event will finish on November 14.

A New Forest Verderers' spokesperson said: "There are fewer acorns this year, which happens from time to time.

"Commoners have put out fewer pigs because there is less food for them, and the pannage season will not be extended, as it often is in years where there are a lot of acorns."

In 2017 pannage was extended until December 17 and last year also saw a bumper crop of acorns - a natural phenomenon known as "masting".

Potential causes of mast years are thought to include weather and climatic conditions.

A Forestry England spokesperson said: "During its long lifespan a native oak tree can produce about ten million acorns and there are natural peaks and troughs in the amount yielded each year.

"We had a very dry spring and hot summer in 2020.

"Oak trees could have reacted to this by producing extra seeds that autumn and may have used up a lot of their energy, which means they haven’t produced so many acorns this year.

"There was a plentiful autumn feast for pigs in 2020 but there are certainly a lot less acorns for them to find in 2021.

"However there are still lots of beech nuts, sweet chestnuts and berries on the Forest floor for them to eat.”