[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 October, 2003, 06:33 GMT 07:33 UK
On the wild boar trail
By Laura Smith-Spark
BBC News Online

Captive boar at Wildwood Trust
Boar have acute senses of smell and hearing
Wild boar move faster than Linford Christie, weigh up to 400 pounds but can turn on a sixpence - and they have big tusks.

All of which begs the question, what was I doing in woodland on the borders of East Sussex and Kent trying to track one down?

Well, after reports as many as 1,000 wild boar are roaming free in the South East - an area better known for its proximity to London than its wildlife - I was keen to see the evidence for myself.

My guide was Ian Douglas, a farmer from Woodchurch in Kent who has spent more than a decade following the creatures, learning their habits and shooting the odd few as game.

How to spot your boar
Boar are generally nocturnal
Look out for distinctive two-toed tracks
They often make muddy wallows and dry day nests
Trees may be scraped with dried mud or marked by tusks
The ground may be furrowed by their snouts

As we headed down a leafy path into the Forestry Commission-owned woods - bordering land belonging to pop star Paul McCartney - he issued his first instructions.

"If we do come across a boar, don't move. You won't have time to run away or climb a tree - just stand still and we'll work out what to do next."

Not the most comforting words but they inspired an unusual thrill of danger.

Mr Douglas, a veteran of countless trips into the woods at night when the wild boar are most active, has had several close encounters.

Ian Douglas
I just felt the hairs rise on the back of my neck - I knew something was there
Farmer Ian Douglas

"The most I've ever seen together at one time was nine adults and their piglets," he said.

"One time I was here and I just felt the hairs rise on the back of my neck - I knew something was there.

"When I turned round there was a sow and her piglets, watching me. I hadn't heard a thing."

The signs of the animals' presence are everywhere, once an old hand points them out.

Furrowed turf by the path - which would barely have warranted a glance before - turns out to be a prime indication of wild boar.

Snout hole

"They turn it over with their snouts to find worms and grubs," said Mr Douglas. "You can see the snout hole there if you look."

He leads me on through the woodland, passing several boar runs, or paths, through the undergrowth and trees marked by tusks.

Eventually we reach a wallow - one of several muddy puddles in the woodland frequented by our quarry.

Tree used by boar to scratch
Boar have scratched on the tree trunk after wallowing in mud

The pool is surrounded by two-toed tracks and the tell-tale splatters where the boar have shaken themselves after rolling in the cooling mud.

"See that track?" asks my guide. "That's fresh - probably only a few hours old. You can see the mud on the undergrowth where they've passed through afterwards."

With the boar lurking perhaps only yards away in the bracken we move on, reaching a tree where the creatures have been scratching.

"They usually rub on pine trees because if they break the bark to reach the resin, it kills the parasites," said Mr Douglas.

Wild boar, it would seem, are remarkably intelligent - and almost invariably spot us before we see them.

Boar necessities
Full grown adult boar can weigh up to 400 lb (180 kg)
They can measure six feet (two metres) from snout to tail
Male boars grow tusks after they reach two years old
A sow will usually have three to eight piglets
Wild boar are omnivorous but eat mostly plant matter
Their diet can include mice, birds' eggs and lizards
Boar have poor eyesight but an excellent sense of smell
They have a better sense of smell than a fox and very sharp hearing, Mr Douglas says, though this is tempered by poor eyesight.

The boars' talent for concealing themselves is proven by our failure to spot a single one, despite two hours spent peering into undergrowth.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is currently looking at whether boar living wild should be culled - or the public taught how to live with them.

Some farmers claim they carry diseases such as foot and mouth and cause damage to crops.

But Mr Douglas believes any plans by the government to exterminate the boar will be impossible to achieve.

A hole in fencing probably made by a boar
Boar can punch their way through wire fences in search of food

Conservationist Peter Smith, who runs the Wildwood Trust centre near Herne Bay, Kent, is also opposed to any cull.

He says Boris, the centre's four-year-old male boar, and its two sows have an important role to play in maintaining woodland in a natural way.

By clearing plants such as rhododendrons and rooting up the ground searching for food, the boar improve the habitat for other animals.

Mr Smith fears ill-equipped hunters will worsen any potential problems rather than reducing the boars' population.

"If they do decide to cull them, how are they going to do it?" he said.

"They will probably shoot them in the wrong place and they will get enraged - and the last thing you need is a wounded wild boar running about."

Wild boar killed in car crash
09 Dec 02  |  England
Runaway boar shot dead
02 Dec 02  |  Scotland
Swine fever: the facts
18 Aug 00  |  UK News
Escaped boar plague farmers
22 Oct 98  |  UK News

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific