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Sanna Burns is using her Tamworth pigs’
natural love of rooting to help cultivate the
land on her smallholding, a tradition going
back to medieval times

I
Words&Pictures|DanButler
love Bramble and Hazel because they were
my first, but then Porker Devine, Buttercup
and Bluebell will always be special because
they were born here.”
Sanna Burns smiles as she watches a cascade of terrier-sized
orange piglets cascade across her hillside. She is a self-confessed
pig fanatic and for her there is only one breed.
“I was browsing on the internet when I saw a picture of a
Tamworth,” she says. “It was love at first sight. They say you grow
to be like your pigs so I suppose I must be ginger and feisty!”
Unlike Jamie Ward, the pig farmer featured in last month’s
Country & Border Life, Sanna’s fascination with pigs began not
with a desire to produce her own food (she is a vegetarian), but
from a love of trees.
Her 18-acre smallholding, Llanfadod Uchaf in the Elan Valley, is
scattered with oaks. These are not the ancient ‘hanging oak woods’
for which mid Wales is famous, but rather parkland where trees
have been deliberately planted at some distance from each other to
allow in enough light for grass while also providing shelter for
grazing livestock.
Pigs in the middle
Today, Sanna is expanding on this traditional approach to
husbandry. Over the past six years she has planted another 4,500
saplings and is using her pigs as a forestry management tool in the
same way our ancestors ranched the vast woods that once cloaked
the countryside.
“I’m passionate about trees,” says Sanna. “Over time the land
had become swamped with bracken and it had to go if the new
trees were going to survive.” She was advised the best way to do
this was with a specific herbicide, but this was only partially
successful. “So then someone suggested pigs,” she explains.
The thinking here is simple – pigs are natural woodland animals
and love nothing more than snuffling in the earth for roots. If
contained on a relatively small patch of ground, in no time they
will dig up almost all the bracken roots, while simultaneously
rotivating and fertilising the soil. “They didn’t completely eradicate
the weeds,” concedes Sanna. “But they certainly gave it enough of
a bashing to give my saplings a chance. a174
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