Page last updated at 00:22 GMT, Thursday, 26 November 2009

Six wild boar to aid the regeneration of ancient forest

Wild boar
The wild boar leaving the Highland Wildlife Park

Wild boar have been released into a forest in a bid to aid the regeneration of ancient Caledonian woodland.

Forres-based charity Trees for Life will keep the six animals in a 30.4 acre enclosure on its Dundreggan Estate in Glen Moriston, Inverness-shire.

It hopes the boar will control the spread of bracken which shades out other wild plants.

Once a native species, the mammal was hunted to extinction in the UK by the 13th Century.

The boar have been donated from the Highland Wildlife Park at Kincriag, near Kingussie, and will be introduced to an area of ancient birch wood.

Their presence is crucial to the ecological health and balance of a natural woodland
Alan Watson Featherstone
Trees for Life

Trees for Life said the plan was to build on the experience of the 2004-2007 Guisachan Wild Boar Project based on the edge of the Glen Affric National Nature Reserve.

It said that project, in which it was a partner, demonstrated the importance of wild boar in forest ecosystems.

The charity's executive director Alan Watson Featherstone said the boar will play a key role in protecting native plant species.

He added: "Wild boar are an integral part of the Caledonian Forest and their presence is crucial to the ecological health and balance of a natural woodland."

Ecologist Liz Balharry, who coordinated the Guisachan Wild Boar Project and is advising Trees for Life, said: "Wild boar are outstanding ecological engineers.

"Their return to Dundreggan will utilise the knowledge gained by my project and is exciting news for forest restoration in Scotland."

Shot by poachers

Bracken grows rapidly through underground runners called rhizomes.

Because its fronds are toxic to most animals it often spreads unchecked. Boars eat both the rhizomes and fronds and, by rooting and exposing the soil, they also create an excellent seedbed for the germination of trees and other woodland plants.

Trees for Life said wild boar were shy and gentle and generally avoid humans.

It said the "fierce" reputation of the animals was largely undeserved, although it could be formidable if cornered.

The charity added that escapes of captive wild boar have occurred since the 1970s and there were free living populations in Kent, Sussex and Devon.

Earlier this year, it was reported that a study of Gloucestershire's wild boar population was being hampered by saboteurs and poachers.

Researchers from Defra's Central Science Laboratory have been catching sows and giving them contraceptives near the Forest of Dean.

The boars were trapped and tagged with a transmitting collar so they could be monitored, but researchers said tagged sows were being shot by poachers.

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