From a distance they look just like woolly sheep, with thick, curly coats to keep out the chill of the wind that whips across the Ayrshire hillside farm.

Closer inspection, however, and the ‘flock’ of sheep is revealed to have flat, broad snouts: perfect for rooting and foraging in the undergrowth.

With long, hairy ears, curly tails and the occasional oink and squeal, they are, confirms farmer David Carruth, definitely pigs.

On a hillside near Dalry, where walkers exploring the outdoors might fully expect to see a flock of sheep, are Mangalitsas, a Hungarian breed of woolly-coated pigs prized for their pork. And they're the latest weapon in the fight to bring balance back to the land.

The Herald: Mangalitsas are woolly-coated pigs that originate from HungaryMangalitsas are woolly-coated pigs that originate from Hungary (Image: Contributed)

For as they forage for food beneath the leaves of maturing oak, birch, hazel, alder, aspen and hazel trees, the 163 woolly pigs are doing their bit to help grow the forest, boost biodiversity, support an array of species and pave a new path towards a different style of farming.

Thanks to their efforts, spring and summer brings carpets of wildflowers: Marsh Ragwort, Ragged Robin, Meadowsweet and Flag Iris now thrive across the floor of the wood.

With bracken, nettles and unwanted saplings which threatened to choke the wood now cleared courtesy of resident pigs, there is room for invertebrates, pollinators, and birds to breathe, move and nest.

As they forage, their trotters break down the soil. And, as nature takes its course, the pigs leave their own mark on the land, distributing seeds in manure as they go.

At the same time as providing an important woodland role, says David, the woolly-coated pigs are “living their best life”. At least, that is, until the inevitable day when they are sent to slaughter.

“They are very happy, content pigs,” he adds. “And this is pig paradise, they have everything they could ever want.

“They have a good run at it and while we do have to send them for one bad day, they have a lot of good days before then.”

The innovative example of agroforestry saw former dairy farmer David win the 2023 Scottish Woodlands Farm Woodland trophy for Young People at Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards.

The Herald: Mangalitsas, a breed of woolly-coated pigs, foraging in woodland brackenMangalitsas, a breed of woolly-coated pigs, foraging in woodland bracken (Image: Contributed)

And it is being held up as an example of how reforestation projects – often tarred as a cynical greenwashing by businesses – can be put to positive use, creating sustainable woodland farms which in turn benefit rural areas, create work, lead to naturally-produced food and bring an array of ecological benefits.

Brodoclea Woodland was planted just over a decade ago in the heart of an area traditionally associated with uphill sheep farming, but which had suffered due to over-farming and sheep grazing.

Although ripe for restoration the challenge for owners The Future Forest Company, which works with businesses seeking to offset carbon emissions through ‘green’ projects, was how to ensure the new woodland served more purpose than ‘just’ growing trees.

The solution emerged in the form of the resilient yet friendly woolly pigs.

The Herald: Woolly pigs roam across the woodland site Woolly pigs roam across the woodland site (Image: Contributed)

David, who runs Brodoclea Woodland Farm alongside Ken Porter, a Dumfries-shire beef and sheep farmer, said: “There’s so much woodland creation going on, and that has raised questions and criticism that the trees move in, and people and farming moves out.

“There’s almost a feeling of loss in a rural community.

“This answers a few of those criticisms, because the land is still being farmed and it’s not just woodland.”

Originally the idea was to use wild boar but, says David, they were “too boisterous” especially as the area is popular with walkers, who can easily approach fenced areas where the pigs are contained.

The Mangalitsa had already been bred on Mull, and their calm temperament, thick woolly coat and quality pork that is considered a national treasure in their Hungarian home, meant they were ideal.

“Mangalitsa are very chilled out,” he adds. “They have a very good temperament and produce one of the best pork products you can get hands on, slightly beefy in flavour with good fats - like a superfood.”

The Herald: One of the Brodoclea Woodland pigs cools off One of the Brodoclea Woodland pigs cools off (Image: Contributed)

Their pork, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants due to their diet, is sold online via The Woolly Pig Company, which in turn provides income to maintain and staff the wood and farm.

While the pigs are said to happily live outside all year, grazing and rooting for food: 97% of their summer diet comes from what they find.

To maximise their effectiveness, David uses a system of adaptive “mob” grazing, keeping them in large groups and grazing them through 20 separate 25-acre forest paddocks.

It means they can target specific problem areas, such as smashing their way through areas of bracken to help other species grow, or rooting out saplings that threaten other trees.

At the same time, the pigs share the woodland with brown hares and various fungi, several species of butterfly and more than 40 bird species, including high conservation concern varieties such as Whinchat and Wood Warbler, to kestrel, buzzards and occasional osprey.

Their introduction has been so successful that Brodoclea was singled out by Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards, which is now calling for entries for the 2024 awards.

Among last year’s winners was Martyn’s Wood at Crannich, Isle of Mull, where an area of biodiversity on inhospitable ground was planted in the memory of the nephew of owner Robin Sedgwick.

David, who grew up in a family of dairy farmers, says he had feared he might struggle to establish his own farm.

The Herald: Mangalitsa piglets born at the woodMangalitsa piglets born at the wood (Image: Contributed)

However, he now hopes the Brodoclea Woodland Farm example can show how reforested areas can encourage new entrants into farming while supporting the environment and rural communities.

“I grew up in dairy farming and it was always said that farming was difficult. I have found a way back into farming,” he adds.

“We feel we have created a model that could be replicable there’s great opportunity for creativity in agroforestry going forward.

“The pigs are just brilliant for the woodland, they are the ultimate eco-system engineers… it makes your wood more resilient in a changing world.”