It was a breakout to make a veteran of Colditz proud. Despite being heavily pregnant, Matilda, the pig, escaped from a farm by burrowing under the electric fencing that had surrounded her pen.
Once out in the wild - or at least a stretch of woodland in Nottinghamshire - Matilda took shetler and proceeded to give birth to ten piglets. Showing a maternal instinct that will make her favourite to win the Mum of the Year award in any number of women’s magazines, Matilda’s remarkable actions saved her piglets from inevitable slaughter.
Dubbed the ‘Ollerton 11’, Matilda and her piglets were discovered on Monday by a dog walker close to the town on the edge of Sherwood Forest.
An animal charity had hoped to rescue the band of merry piglets but three days after they were found, the pig breeding farm from which they had escaped had rounded them up.
The piglets, at this stage, seemed destined for slaughter - despite Matilda’s best efforts. But in the face of public uproar, a 5,000 strong petition and the prospect of a mass demonstration, the farm has now handed Matilda and her piglets over to Brinsley Animal Rescue. The Hollywood ending - and one can be sure this will turn up at a movie theatre near you - was assured.
After Matilda’s was first discovered, volunteers from Brinsley sought her out, discovering her malnourished and without an ear tag as she lay next to her just-born litter.
The pregnant sow had escaped from nearby Haughton Warren Farm by burrowing under the electric fencing. But with a ring through her snout, she had been unable to effectively forage for food. The volunteers fed Matilda a combination of cereals, fruit and vegetables to help her recover from the birth but two days later she was back in the farm’s hands.
Piglets are usually removed from sows when they are a few weeks old, and killed when they reach about six months of age.
But activists forced a U-turn from the farm who handed Matilda and the litter over after they launched a campaign across social media sites dubbed ‘Save the Ollerton 11' and threatened to stage a protest outside the farm.
Campaigners had drawn inspiration for the title from the ‘Tamworth Two’ - pair of pigs that escaped 1998 while being unloaded from a lorry at an abattoir, in Wiltshire causing a media frenzy. In 2003, the BBC broadcast a 60-minute drama The Legend of the Tamworth Two.
Wold Farms Breeding Ltd, which manages Houghton Warren Farm and is one of the largest outdoor pig breeding businesses in the country, has been approached for comment.
Anna Aston, the dog walker, who originally found the pigs in woodland near Ollerton, said Matilda had "earned her freedom". "It's such good news, it has made my day," said Mrs Aston, who became vegetarian a year ago. "I couldn't stand the thought of them going back to wherever it was, and we all have a good idea of what would have happened to them.
"We can't save all the pigs but I just felt that she had earned her freedom. She had the instinct - she needed to have the piglets somewhere safe and went and did that."
Jon Beresford, founder of Brinsley Animal Rescue, insisted pigs were more intelligent than dogs and he believes Matilda, aged between one and two, escaped to protect her unborn piglets.
"Matilda's maternal instinct has driven her to escape from a commercial farm," he said. "Pigs are incredibly intelligent creatures and they have a huge maternal drive."
Brinsley Animal Rescue has since found a permanent home for Matilda and family at Surge, another animal rescue sanctuary in the Midlands.