Pig industry calls for wild boar population control methods

The National Pig Association (NPA) has called for well thought-out efforts in controlling the feral wild boar population in the Forest of Dean.

This comes in response to the rising numbers posing a threat to commercial pigs in the area. According to the NPA, the latest cull of wild boar in the Gloucestershire and Herefordshire forest have been ineffective.

“Feral wild boar pose a very genuine threat to the British pig industry,” said NPA chief executive Dr Zoe Davies.

“These pigs are gaining access to waste food when they root around in household bins and at picnic sites. We need to be mindful that, in Eastern Europe, wild boar have been integral in the spread of the deadly African swine fever (ASF) virus.”

The association said that survey figures from March of this year showed that there were roughly 1,562 feral wild boars roaming the forest, equating to about 21 per sq km. This is a 50% rise on the 2015 estimate, while populations are also spreading into other areas.

This surge in numbers occurred even after a cull of more than 400 wild boar in the Forest, with experts warning that the population could hit 10,000 within a few years unless proper controls are enforced.

“If an exotic disease like ASF got into the UK’s wild boar population, it would become almost impossible to prove that the disease had been stamped out,” added Davies. “This would wreck our burgeoning export market, now worth £350 million a year, with devastating consequences for the industry.

“In addition, local businesses and tourism would suffer greatly as the whole area would be under restriction indefinitely. We only need to look back to the last foot-and-mouth disease outbreak to know exactly what impact this can have on local communities.”

Wild boar populations have been hindering the general public, with reports of animals wandering into town centres and rummaging through people’s bins and gardens. There have even been reported incidents of them chasing dog walkers. The association claimed that there have been 49 wild boar-related road traffic recorded incidents since April.

The NPA believes the situation now warrants a more effective and co-ordinated control policy with the support of Defra.

“We want to highlight to MPs and bodies like Natural England, Defra and the Forestry Commission the wider implications of further feral wild boar population growth on the pig industry, as well as the wider impact on local communities,” continued Davies.

“We will be encouraging local landowners to join forces and help the Forestry Commission to properly control the population and prevent further spread. But we also need co-ordinated action. Defra believes that wild boar control should be the responsibility of the landowner. We are therefore calling for Defra to put pressure on the Forestry Commission, as a responsible landowner of a significant proportion of the Forest of Dean, to carry out an efficient cull that is properly resourced.

“The wild boar population is expanding because the conditions – warm winters, plentiful food and no natural predators – are ideal. The Deer Initiative predicts the population could reach 10,000 by 2020 unless proper controls are in place. That would not be in anybody’s interests.”

Deer liaison officer for the West Midlands for The Deer Initiative, Graham Riminton, said the aim of the project is to get the population down to 400. However, as of last winter, numbers stood at 15,000 just in Forestry Commission land.

He told Meat Trades Journal that everyone should work together to control the population. "There's a need now for the surrounding land-owners to also ensure that the numbers don't get out of control."

Riminton, who also runs the Forest of Dean project, said that there are plans to expand the vicinity of involved people. "The committee I'm involved in with various landowners and various other public bodies are basically trying to coordinate those activities outside of the Forestry Commission estate." 

Addressing the situation, there will be a landowner meeting taking place at the beginning of next year, although details are yet to be finalised.

Defra said it encourages landowners to take the appropriate action in managing wild boar populations on their land, with all landowners being responsible for managing wild boar numbers in the UK.

A spokesperson for Defra said: "We understand the damage and distress feral wild boar can cause, which is why the Forestry Commission has an annual programme of culling in place to bring the population down to a sustainable level on public forest land within the Forest of Dean.

"Anyone keeping wild boar must obtain a licence from their local authority and failure to prevent their escape or illegal release is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act."

In response, the Forestry Commission insisted it is being proactive in managing the population. "We control boar populations on land we manage and where necessary have employed additional wildlife rangers working on this season's cull," said a spokesperon for the commission.

"We also work with other landowners so we can better manage boar populations, across a whole landscape."

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