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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 March 2008, 12:14 GMT
Dealing with England's wild boars
By Sarah Campbell
BBC News, Forest of Dean

Wild boar
There may be up to 1,000 wild boar in the UK

Hundreds of years ago, wild boar hunting was a favourite sport of kings.

In fact, it was so popular and boar meat considered so tasty that the species was extinct in the wild in England for 350 years.

But wild boar have now returned to the English countryside - and the population has been so successful that the government has launched an action plan to deal with the growing numbers.

The population in Gloucestershire's Forest of Dean alone is thought to be around 100, but there are further groups on the Kent/Sussex border, in west Dorset and on Dartmoor.

Altogether, the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) estimates the UK population to be up to 1,000. All significant breeding populations are in England.

Map of wild boar locations
Areas with wild boar populations

The animals, which have either escaped from boar farms or been deliberately released into the wild, have no natural predators and can breed from an early age. This has helped the population boom, and concerns have been growing about the impact on communities and the land on which the creatures live.

Problems arise when boar come into contact with humans.

Earlier this year, a young male - described by teacher Jane Evans as the size of a large Labrador - was spotted in the grounds of Ruardean Primary School in the Forest of Dean.

"I think they call him a yearling. He was a year-old male, but getting to the age where he could be really quite dangerous," Ms Evans says.

After rooting for crab apples in the playground, the animal became aggressive. The Forestry Commission was called and the decision was taken to shoot the young boar on sight.

Animal attacks

The Forest of Dean, with its thick undergrowth, stagnant pools and open ground for rooting, has provided the perfect breeding ground for a whole new generation of wild boar.

There have been reports of dogs, horses and cattle being attacked. Large areas of grassland, including picnic areas in the forest, have also been churned up by the rooting creatures.

These encounters have led many people living in the area to ask whether they want to share the land with the expanding number of wild boar.

To find out the scale of the problem, the government began a consultation process in 2005. Last month it published the results and put forward an action plan.

I think what is clear - because of the potential for the population to explode - there is going to have to be some sort of management
Rob Guest
Forestry Commission

The consultation concluded there was no national threat to the environment, farming or public safety, and the plan deemed it was entirely up to landowners and local communities to decide how to manage boars.

In reality, this means the decision has to be taken whether to leave the animals alone or cull them to control their numbers.

Rob Guest, from the Forestry Commission, believes culling is an option people must consider.

"I think what is clear - because of the potential for the population to explode - there is going to have to be some sort of management," he says.

Wild boar expert Dr Martin Goulding agrees there may be a need to cull, but he is concerned that Defra's action plan is too short on detail on how it should take place.

"There is no instruction to control the wild boar sensibly, responsibly and safely - how to cleanly kill a wild boar," he says.

"It is very important for animal welfare reasons - and because an injured wild boar is a very dangerous animal indeed."

Defra says there are further details to come regarding the type of firearms to be used and how to prevent further escapes from wild boar farms.



SEE ALSO
Wild boars 'ruining my business'
28 Feb 08 |  England
Wild boar shot on school grounds
31 Jan 08 |  Gloucestershire

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