Verderers of the Forest of Dean
Feral Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean
Status of boar
Boar were once common in the Forest of Dean and were hunted for food. In medieval times, boar from the Royal Forest were supplied for the King's table - there is a record of an order for 100 boars and sows for a Christmas feast in 1254. Boar are thought to have become extinct in Britain not long after this time.
The farming of wild boar in Britain became fashionable in the 1970's and boar originating from the European mainland were kept under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 that was intended to ensure their secure confinement.
Wild Boar in the Forest
Boar became feral in the area after some escaped or were released from a farm near Ross on Wye in 1999. In Autumn 2004 a group of about sixty farm-raised boar were dumped near Staunton. Some turned up in the main block of the Dean in Spring 2006, probably individuals deliberately moved from the Staunton population. A sizeable population has now developed in the Forest with a number of family groups or sounders holding Inclosure sized territories spread across the Statutory Forest together with several lone wandering boars. There is strong evidence that the Hereford population is now merging with the Dean population.
Boar are now interacting with people on a regular basis throughout the Forest and some dogs have been injured or killed although there have been no injuries to people other than to a man trying to feed a large boar by hand while a child hit it with a stick. A significant and obvious issue with the boar population is damage to amenity grassland, verges and gardens in both FC and private ownership. There is also an issue with the damage to fences allowing access and associated damage to tree crops by boar, deer and rabbits. Numbers of road casualty boar have increased (10 in 08/09). Without control, there is the potential for boar to have an adverse effect on flora (e.g. the bluebell carpets) and fauna (potentially including European Protected Species such as dormice or the ground nesting birds such as wood warbler which are so important in the Nagshead SSSI). Control of individual problem animals has been undertaken, and the Dean population has become increasingly nocturnal and more shy of people although they are still regularly seen by forest users.
Management of boar
DEFRA undertook public consultation in 2006 and in February 2008 published an Action Plan for boar management which concluded that the Government would support local communities in the management of feral wild boar populations where they live based on the local situation. The Forest of Dean District Council set up a task group to investigate the issue which reported to the Council's Community Scrutiny and Review Committee in June 2009. Following a widespread consultation amongst the community, the Council recommended to the Verderers that the number of boar should be controlled to a level lower than existed at that time, particularly to a level which would not cause damage or harm to the Forest and visitors to the Forest. The Committee recommended that the FC should manage the boar on its land so that boar should be encouraged to remain in the wooded areas of the Forest. The Verderers endorsed the principle of management, but considered that this might result in continuing problems and that even further reduction in the population might be required in the future.
The Forestry Commission's strategy for management has as its primary aim the maintenance of the forest environment and the health and safety of its residents and visitors. It provides guidance which requires that all control will be undertaken using humane methods, in accordance with Forestry Commission standards.
In the absence of any reliable method for determining the population in the Forest of Dean, and thus an appropriate cull level, the interim aim was to control the population to keep a sustainable population level suggested by the Dutch model. This originally equated to approximately 90 animals (there were estimated to be significantly more than this present in July 2009). An annual census is now taken, using extremely powerful night vision equipment and has indicated population growth every year. Experience to date has highlighted practical difficulties in significantly reducing the population of boar given their high potential for population growth. Particular focus has been placed on animals close to areas of settlement or those known to be a particular problem. The experience gained has allowed the practicalities of reducing the population to be evaluated, and it has been agreed by all interested parties to set a target of 400 animals in order to retain a sustainable population and to keep numbers in check.
In managing the boar, District staff practise exemplary management of the animals, with emphasis on staff and public safety and animal welfare. Where appropriate and practical, the activity involves the production of saleable carcasses and FC staff work in collaboration with others to facilitate the management of boar on a landscape scale.
Given the legal right of public access accorded under the CROW Act and the very high level of public access there are no plans to let boar shooting rights nor to have day permit stalking by private individuals in the Forest of Dean.
Future successful management of the boar will depend upon research clarifying many of the currently poorly understood or unknown issues. Both the Government's Food and Environment Research Agency and FC Forest Research are actively engaged in boar research and the Forestry Commission in the Forest of Dean will assist as far as practicable.
The priorities for research are:
- Develop methods to calculate and monitor population density and range expansion
- Evaluate the feasibility and costs of more effective fencing options
- Determine ways to improve the efficiency of boar removal techniques
- Determine the impacts of boar on plant biodiversity
- Determine the impacts of boar on animal biodiversity - e.g. dormice, ground nesting birds
- Explore practical methods for fertility control in wild populations
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