Wild boar are breeding in large numbers in the Forest of Dean. PETER FROST brings home the bacon.
This spring there are probably as many as six hundred wild boar in the Forest of Dean. Perhaps it’s no wonder that there are plans for a cull.
Numbers of wild boars have been growing since the 1980’s when some animals escaped from wild life parks and some of the early commercial breeders of delicious wild boar meat.
Britain’s native boars had been hunted to extinction in medieval times.
In 1998 a Ministry of Agriculture study on wild boar living wild in Britain confirmed the presence of just two significant populations of the animals here.
One was in Kent and East Sussex and another in Dorset.
By 2008 another DEFRA report confirmed the existence of these two sites as established breeding areas and identified a third in the Forest of Dean and Ross on Wye area on the Gloucestershire, Herefordshire borders.
A further new breeding population was also identified in Devon.
The Kent East Sussex population was probably 200 animals.
The second largest, in the Forest of Dean was estimated to be in excess of a hundred animals.
The smallest, in west Dorset, was estimated to be fewer than 50 animals.
Since the winter of 2005/6 significant escapes and releases have also resulted in animals colonising areas around the fringes of Dartmoor, in Devon. There are perhaps about a hundred animals in this new breeding population.
Population estimates for the Forest of Dean vary. In early 2010 the Forestry Commission embarked on a cull, with the aim of reducing the boar population from an estimated 150 animals to 100.
By August of that year it was stated that efforts were being made to reduce the population from 200 but that only 25 had been killed.
The failure to meet cull targets was confirmed in February 2011.
Some animals crossed the River Wye into Monmouthshire, Wales.
Today there are probably as many as 600 wild boars roaming the 43 square miles of ancient Gloucestershire woodland. It’s now Britain’s biggest population.
Forestry Commission (FC) surveyor, Kevin Stannard, has declared that Forest of Dean boar numbers are doubling almost every year.
“It is difficult to put a figure on the population but we estimate there are in excess of 500 and probably 600 boars in the Forest of Dean.
“Last year, we set a cull target of 100. That target was met in January, with 78 animals culled by FC staff and 22 animals killed through road traffic accidents.”
The FC says that up to 200 boars might now have to be culled but the locals – who played a key part in the national battle to prevent the woodlands being privatised by the government in 2011 – are split.
They are proud of their boars but also worried that numbers may be out of control.
Locals have complained that rampaging boars plough up gardens and crops, panic horses, rip up roadside verges, open rubbish bags and are increasingly causing road accidents.
If nothing is done some locals fear there could be more than a thousand animals in 18 months’ time.
Boars roam in family groups called sounders across the whole forest. Adult male boars can move rapidly between eight to nine miles in one night.
The UK Wild Boar Trust, based in the Forest of Dean, does not support a cull. “It’s always this time of year when people call for the boars to be controlled because the roadsides are messy.
“It might look bad to some people, but as soon as the weather improves it will get better. The grass just isn’t growing over at the moment” says the Trust.
Wild boars have no natural predators in the UK and females can give birth to eight to 14 piglets a year in two litters.
More extreme methods of natural control have been proposed with some suggesting re-introducing natural predators like lynx and even packs of wolves.
If that happens at least life in the forest will never be a boar.
First published in the Morning Star Summer 2013