Welcome back! Today I want to talk about something I have been extremely passionate about and pretty vocal on (to anyone that will listen anyway?) for some time now. Living in the Forest of Dean, I am lucky enough to be surrounded by the most beautiful nature and wildlife. With ancient woodlands, caves, ponds and lakes, it’s not surprising that the forest is also home to a variety of wildlife, fallow deer, hawfinches, goshawks, peregrine falcons and even mandarin ducks are all sights I have been lucky to witness in my 30 years of living here, but more recently I have laid eyes on a new addition – wild boar!
Although native to the area, until recently, no free-living wild boar had lived in the Forest of Dean for almost 300 years, so how did this population come to be? It is widely reported that a group of captive bred boar were thought to have escaped from a farm in the 90’s, whilst a second group was illegally dumped a few years later. Since then they have successfully bred in the wild and can be found in many areas of the forest. In the past 5 years or so, I have only had two or three sightings but they were unforgettable to say the least. My first glimpse was of a large male boar meandering down the road in a local village late one night. I followed slowly behind him in my car, in amazement at his sheer size. He didn’t even seem to notice me and eventually made his way into someones garden, possibly for a late night snack. My second was at a local pond site, where another large male was snoozing in the middle of the day behind a rotting log. He was clearly visible and people stood around taking photos, each one daring to get a little closer, young children and all. I was amazed at how at ease he was with everyone and was later told, he was a regular to the area as visitors loved to feed him their left overs. My final sighting was two years ago and was by far the most memorable, driving home early one evening, I noticed a large number of cars had stopped on the side of the road. The drivers were out of their vehicles and a little way into the woods, I could see them taking photos on their phones, so naturally, my curiosity kicked in and I too pulled over to see what all the fuss was about. Not too far away and clearly visible was a female boar with her litter of piglets. They seemed totally undisturbed by the crowd that had gathered and went about their business turfing up the ground looking for anything to feed on, roots, nuts, acorns or mushrooms. We watched for a few minutes as the sow slowly made her way back into the forest and it wasn’t long before her and her piglets, had disappeared into the undergrowth.
The population of boar have grown over the years and currently stands at around 1500 – 1700. In that time opinions on the boar have also grown as the animals are increasingly coming into conflict with the locals for turfing up gardens, sports fields, play areas and picnicking sites. There have also been reports of attacks on dogs, some resulting in death, whilst more recently boar have been sighted in towns and villages in broad daylight, causing concern of locals and young children especially. So understandably, locals want to know what will be done to reduce any further conflict or risk?
I have been doing a little experiment these past few weeks, talking to people about the boar, people from all walks of life, ages, gender and the one thing I have been most surprised by is the number of boar people believe their to be in the Forest of Dean.
When I asked people how many boar they thought resided here, I was met with answers of ‘thousands’, even ‘tens of thousands’ and each one was shocked when I told them the populations was estimated to be just below 2000. When I asked people why they thought the populations were so high, it was generally because they had read something to that effect in a newspaper. Others tried to do the math? Well, each sow as three litters a year with up to 10 piglets in a litter, that’s 30 piglets reproducing…. and so on, and so on.
Further to this I asked what they thought needed to be done to reduce conflict and risk between the wild boar and the public, almost everyone suggested a cull and most were not polite about it either.
Culling has been the subject of debate for quite some time now and has quite literally divided locals but my rant for today isn’t about whether the boar should or shouldn’t be here or whether there is even a need for management. However I do have a problem with our automatic response being to kill anything that disrupts our daily habits. The problems that currently exist with wild boar include damage to property and public safety. My argument is that no amount of culling (unless to extinction?) will stop these things from happening. Whether you have a population of 400 or 2o00, if a boar comes across a garden it likes the look of, it will try to enter and it will dig for food. If a boar is fed whether it be scraps from your bin or from you hand it will return no matter the population numbers and if you hit a wild boar whilst driving, you would have hit it anyway, it doesn’t matter how many there are. As long as wild boar live in the Forest of Dean these things will still happen no matter how many are culled.
The key is in damage limitation, locals need to take responsibility for their own land, introduce their own protective measures, make sure their rubbish is secure, treat these animals as they are – ‘wild’, keep dogs leads and stand together to put pressure on our councils to fund fencing and grids on public areas, as well as set up relocation measures should wild boar get to close to a public area. If we do these things and do them well, there is no reason we can’t learn to coexist with wild boar and treat them as assets to our beautiful countryside rather than a hindrance.