Tuesday, 6 December 2011

I'm Scared to walk in the Forest anymore - I'm a prisoner in my own home!

Look out for the following article in The Review (Forest of Dean local newspaper) this week.  A response to all the many letters to the press over recent months from those who love the Forest but seem to be scared of the boar.  Many letters came from people claiming to have lived here for many years.  You'll get the idea even if you never saw the letters in question.  We wondered if some of the letters are a joke, so we thought would should agree... in kind....

Times are getting harder and with austerity measures on the way I had decided to forage for free food in our verdant and fantastically biodiverse Forest that we all love.  Herbs have always been a passion to me, and it is about time we all stopped calling them weeds (although some can be smoked) for they may save us all in the future. 

My first outing was for nettles to make some lovely hot soup, but was soon ruined by a ladybird that came whirring down onto my hand from nowhere. Startled enough, this voracious commy-red killer of aphids began to walk up towards my eyes and I had to start running in the hope the breeze I created would blow off the unwelcome pest.  But in my agitated state, adrenaline soon took over every muscle fibre and sinew in my body and I banged my head on a tree. I had to spend the night in the Dilke (I think). 

Hungry, I excused myself the following morn from the bed of the strangely delectable Sister and went bravely forth once again into the jungle.  It wasn’t long before I heard the scary sounds of tweeting swallows, swooping with what seemed like malicious play directed just at me.  I got the hump for sure, for they were very fast fliers and could only worry at the prospect of a child being hurt if one were to fly in the child’s eyes.  I pulled myself together and with the warrior skills gained only from watching video games, I got past them when finally I spotted some juicy looking nettles. 

Can you imagine my disgust when I saw that they were surrounded by bracken!  I had to quickly suck back my drools, for those who may not know these are seriously carcinogenic plants, second only to Taxus baccata (or Yew to none Foresters), and some spores may have fallen onto the nettles, and even swirling about me poisoning my air and by now exposed spit (I was never good at sucking back spit strings, as my younger sister can verify). 

Disgusted, I widened my search and saw a flutter of tasty looking nettles by an erect stand of towering conifers.  But as I approached them I heard a loud and menacing bark from the dark recesses of what turned out to be Tolkeinesque wildwood, with its towering and vaulted trees that reminded me of a past I wanted to seriously forget – as a child I was forced into church by Arkela and I am now mentally scarred.  But instead of having to sing hymns, I was frozen solid at the thought of a huge fallow deer bellowing his trumpet at me, as if Armegeddon’s apocalyptic horses were upon me, all tooled up with huge antlers and ready to charge into battle.  I somehow managed to unfreeze myself and returned home intact but in need of my expensive medication – at a spiralling yearly cost of £40-50,000. 

I have written to the Forestry Commission without response.  It seems to me that if we don’t round up all the animals into enclosures, and fell all the trees and burn the bracken, nobody will want to walk in the Forest for much longer as it’s becoming too dangerous for those with a keen wanderlust to explore the heritage we have on our doorstep, especially dog-owners.


Sometime in the future...."Don't touch! You may get a splinter." This forest is too dangerous for our children.

I’ve also written to the Council and Highways suggesting that once all the trees are gone they could pave the Forest over and thereby creating jobs, especially quarrying.  Paved roadsides would stop the boar from digging them up, and the burning of the trees may literally generate green energy to combat global warming.  This would ultimately make finding my nettles and other delicious wayside weed, umm herbs, much easier. 

It would be like the old pre-Napoleon treeless days of smog-ridden valleys and iron mines.  I’m not an extremist and would be happy for a bit of bare earth to be left exposed and routinely rotivated for the nettles and other herbage to grow in (yes, I know turned-over bare earth offends a few), and I would even be happy that no signs be erected to warn me about the dirt or the danger of being stung by a nettle.  We Foresters know all too well about the dangers here and tourists would just have to accept the risks or go back to their towns.

In my care of these patches I would even graciously donate a few ultra-violet lamps to illuminate those patches of weed so that more people may enjoy the sight of them, especially at night.  Information boards may be erected in due course and a line of coloured posts directing you to the organic “sculpture” (a bit like the 33rd degree Freemason’s pyramid, but useful, attractive and longer lasting). 

In my utopian high of a better Forest for all, I pondered even more the advantages it would bring.  Counting the boar would be easy and we would no longer have to believe the high priests of Bank House anymore as we could all see the truth for ourselves, before we rounded them up into enclosures of course (I mean the boar, not the FC, although maybe the FC would feel safer in there too).  Indeed, the Forestry Commission’s job would be easier and affordable until all the logs to build cabins ran out. 

Maybe some people may not like what I suggest, but it is surely time to stop appeasing these bunny and tree huggers and let the Foresters have their Forest back as it was in the good old days of wayside herbs and Warren James, with all it’s pestilence and poverty to keep us on our toes.  Keep the dream.  Come on, it’s nearly Christmas when we all think Santa has something to do with Jesus, so nothing is impossible.   Don’t let the rantings of the few ruin it for all.  Get educated about our Forest and its rich herbage.  Long live the Forest and all that dwell in her.


"I didn't scare them off, it was you!"  "No it was you!"



DJS


Tuesday, 29 November 2011

WILD BOAR CULL STATISTICS - the proof of mismanagement

It had long been the opinion of photographers that the boar numbers claimed by the Forestry Commission did not match what was being seen within the Forest of Dean. 

A model of population wasn't realised until early 2010 when photographers suddenly began seeing lots of boar, especially mothers with piglets.  It seemed that now everyone was getting photos, whereas pre-2010 it was very definitely a difficult task.  Sightings dropped again by the summer, then late in 2010 and early 2011, something very strange started occurring.  Roadside were being grubbed up like never before and piglets were everywhere.  How had we gone from low numbers of sightings in 2009, with just a modicum of roadside grubbing, to what we were witnessing in early 2011?

The Forestry Commission pounced on this and became ever more insistent that numbers were rising.  They began to cite the roadsides as evidence, as well as begin to publicise cull figures:
April 2008 - April 2009 = 38 animals,
April 2009 - April 2010 = 62 animals,
April 2010 - April 2011 = 122 animals

These were published in the proposed 2011 Management plan along with definitive and unquestionable population numbers. What was interesting was that the numbers culled each year became harder and harder to achieve, until in 2011 the FC announced that they had not achieved their target (150 animals).

Targets were simply calculated by subtracting 90 (a number that the Council wanted to survive) from the FC's total population figure.

On first glance it may appear that increasing numbers of culled boar meant an increasing population.  This also tallied with the ease at which photographers were tracking down the boar from 2010, especially at certain times of year.  But this didn't make sense when the FC could not achieve their cull targets despite the ever rising estimates of total boar - now put at 350 and probably more.  By April 2011 they had killed 122 boars leaving 228 and probably more still roaming.  But 228 boar was about the population size estimated for the previous year (2010) when the FC managed to cull 1 in 4 boar (62/250).

It all became clear when Friends of the Boar were given, via freedom of Information requests, the cull data from the Castlemain depot - the only larder to take culled boar in the Forest of Dean.


Wild Boar cull data 2008 - mid 2011. Click to enlarge.

When the weights of the animals are plotted against time a trend becomes clear of a slow decrease in the average weight (or age) of the population.  In 2008, the average weight was 61kg, but by summer 2011 it was just 41kg.  It had gone from being that of an 18 months old animal to that of a 9 months old animal (a halving of age).

This was the linear trend.  The best fit regression line (shown in red), which tracks some seasonality, predicted even worse to come with a dramatic fall off at the end of the line.

This data was seen by hunting organisations and journalists, with the Guardian in particular very interested.  They contacted scientists and boar experts for their input, with the opinion being that the management of the boar was dangerously flawed and culling is being based upon a poor guess at population.  Many hunters were also outraged at what was occuring.

Our hypothesis was that the FC were now in their second year (at least) of over-culling.  Not by a little bit but decimated by a large margin, which accounted for seasonal difficulties in seeing any boar. 

One problem inherent with over-culling, and the more rapid the worse it is, is the population rebound theory put forward by many mammal ecologists.  It states that sudden increases in nutrition favour stronger mothers and healthier young - youngsters more likely to survive any hardship early in life (cold weather and starvation produce high mortality in natural systems).  What is more, some mammals seem to react to stressful depopulation by actually producing more young in a drastic effort to compensate, and often overcompensate, for the sudden loss of friends and family.  Also, when their young are killed, mothers can come straight back into season to produce yet more young!  Hunting can create a vicious cycle, and promotes the problem that hunting often proposes to solve - over-population.  It is a hunters dream!

The above graph was worrying and we awaited further data to see if the hypothesis remained true.


Wild Boar cull data 2008 - Sept 2011. Click to enlarge.
We shared our findings with the FC in person and in our management plan response in late August with an urgent call to stop culling and implement a closed season.  Rather than consider us, the FC immediately went "all-out" to achieve their cull target in a record breaking time. They also achieved it at the very worst time - when there should have been no killing (closed season).  It appeared personal.  

Their cull target had been achieved this time, and just 6 months. 
April 2011 - September 2011 = 153 animals.

The FC gloated and publicised their achievements everywhere, obviously wanting to be seen as saviours and good managers hoping we would go away proved wrong.  We wrote to the press to highlight at just how belligerent the FC were now acting and what they had just done may prove very serious indeed.

The remaining cull data came in.  Apart from showing an increase in road traffic accidents (due to increased panic from increased hunting? And with those boars being added to the cull target), and killings made disproportionately close to houses and amenity areas, the final data fitted precisely with prediction.  The average age of the boars now stands at just 32kg - a piglet - with stripes!  The red line did not thankfully continue downwards but can now be seen to agree with the linear trend.

Downward spikes can be seen each year.  These represent the onset of killing piglets in late summer.  These piglets belong to first year mothers who typically give birth at this time so as not to compete with the main birthing season in March.  Look carefully and we find that the start of this season has been moving earlier each year.  This is totally consistent with new research from Germany showing how hunting disrupts natural birth patterns (with hunters continuing the myth that boar breed all year round - what they don't say is this only occurs when they are hunted!  This is how game managers farm their animals in order to produce "sustainable" populations.  Farmers also kill newborns or remove them from mothers to increase "productivity").

Look even more carefully at the downward spikes and you see a rising slope with time (2009-2011).  This proves the FC begin killing piglets at dependency (<10kg) and throughout their infancy.  What is more, a higher slope can also been seen (especially 2011) that tracks the growing mothers.  The mothers are now so young when they give birth, they too are still growing quickly.  The parallel lines proves mothers and their piglets are often slaughtered together on purpose (and cannot be welfare cases).  This may be due to 2011 being the year of the tame boar.  The tame sows were young mothers, maybe just 7-8 months old.  The reason they are so young is due entirely to Population or Compensatory Rebound Effect - orphaned piglets come into season much earlier.

Tame boar, road accidents, and boar near to houses (with the assumption many of these were reported by concerned residents to the FC) is probably the reason why the FC managed to achieve their target in half the time (and cheaply too).  Killing boar is getting easier because over-culling is producing younger and less-experienced boar who do not run from humans or roads.  Increased numbers of piglets in early 2011 is now explained, and why they dug up so much of our road verges - they didn't know the dangers yet!

The very strong conclusion is that the FC are mismanaging the boar in a seriously dangerous manner and with belligerence and total disregard for boar welfare.  Compensatory Rebound is definitely in action.  The FC have been given the data but choose to ignore it.

Another conclusion is that the sudden increase in sightings of boar from early 2010 onwards was not a product of more boar, but increasing numbers of sows and their pigets becoming less inclined to run away.  These sows were probably young orphans left to fend alone after their mother was shot.  From 2004 to mid 2009, sighting of little piglets was very rare indeed.   Young mothers were slowly, but surely, created via the compensatory rebound mechanism (earlier fertility) and couldn't pass on any experience to their piglets to run from people (and/or become nocturnal) because there had not been enough time for their own mother to drill this survival strategy home.  This is a trend that has continued to this day.  Why? Because the FC continue to slaughter mothers and young piglets (evidenced in graph, especially for 2011), leaving any surviving piglets to die, or if lucky and fit (which they are in the rebound model), the piglets grow up with little experience of how some humans love to inflict fear and suffering upon wildlife.  This is something that Defra does not give guidance on.

These graphs do not expose a couple of other important underlying issues here, and these will be discussed later in another posting.  Maybe you can work out why digging roadsides always occurs in the Autumn when acorns are at their most plenty?  You may also ponder if these graphs give any insight into the boar NOT in the data, eg poached or organised shooting victims.

We know that Messrs Stannard and Harvey read this blog.  You need to end the hunting culture within your walls and start to manage.  We understand you may be constrained by whatever Defra is telling you, but please study the data again and take note.  There are more important things here than profiteering from the meat sales and inflating the future "value" of the forest to private investors and shooters.  You are very welcome to add your comments below, and maybe we can finally start to work together for the future health of boar and the Forest.

DJS


Thursday, 24 November 2011

BOAR CENSUS PROVES LOW BOAR NUMBERS

The blogspot has been quiet for a week or so now, but doesn't mean we've been doing nothing for the wild boar.  In fact November has been a very busy month for us, and we feel we have done quite a lot in hopefully securing a better future for the wild boar as well as getting some quite significant sectors of the community up to speed on the science and local politics surrounding the boar here in the Forest of Dean.

To keep this topic manageable, we want to give you all some information on the now well publicised census that the Forestry Commission have been undertaking.

Friends of the Boar met with Forestry officials in the first week of August to discuss with them directly our concerns with their proposed "Feral Wild Boar Management Plan 2011-2016".  Amongst other things, we outlined to them the dangers, both past and future, if the FC continued to cull wild boar without any clue as to the population.

Please note, that at this time the FC did not accept they did not know population numbers.  We knew they didn't know, but they had up until then successfully hidden this fact from the public, the media and most importantly from local Councillors from whom they had previously sought consent for their cull targets.  The FC were adamant they knew the population, but we nevertheless managed to get them to agree to a "wild boar census".  Not only that, but they also agreed for an independent observer to attend the census as suspicions were already too high as to the impartial nature of the FC towards the boar.

(It turns out that a "wild boar census" per se was never on the cards, but was to be part of the yearly deer census as an add-on observation - or just another column in the spreadsheet).

In order to keep up the pressure for the FC to keep their promise we contacted the Guardian newspaper about our concerns, and they wrote a good article about the FC's lack of knowledge on boar numbers.  The Guardian interviewed FC officials and from this the public were finally told the truth about the matter.

During our discussions, we discussed the last wild boar census the FC undertook.  They told us they used Thermal Imaging, but although they believed it works fine for deer, it was not so good for wild boar.  They had undertaken multiple transects at night during their yearly deer census (2-3 weeks long) and found that the boar numbers were far lower than expected.  We were surprised, and on pressuring the FC to give us a figure, they said approximately 30 boar had only been seen.  Since the FC had given assurances to the world that the population was 200 and rising (with figures as high as 700 even being quoted from Mr Stannard in the press), it could ONLY mean that the method didn't work (knowing the answer before the experiment is not science but dogma!)

We suggested they had just proven our contention that boar numbers are actually much lower, approximately 100, maybe as low as 50!  They disagreed, but they did agree to do another census, but it WOULD NOT be using Thermal Imaging but instead NIGHT-scoping using infra-red telescopes and high-powered lamps.

Their (poor) explanation of lack of boars found was due to vegetation.  For some reason, they believe wild boar hide behind thickets at night, whilst deer stand up and be counted!  This is despite the FC's explanation that low daytime sightings (used by many photographers as an argument to suggest low numbers) was due to the boar becoming active only at night!  Talk about contradicting yourself!

The idea that Thermal Imaging doesn't work was also backed up by another FC staff member during a personal communication, who claimed that one night a boar had a radio collar attached, so they knew its location just a few metres away, but the camera couldn't see it.

THIS YEAR'S census started on the Halloween night (31st October).  As before, it was the usual yearly deer census that was occuring but with any boar also being noted down.  This began AFTER the Autumnwatch piece (see previous posting) when we see the FC out with Michaela Strachan using Night-scoping on what the public were meant to believe was a genuine census night!  Caught out again Mr FC - faking a census, not to mention the baiting they used to draw some tame boars in front of the cameras.

The independent observer took part on the second transect, 3 days after the census began.  Each transect is 3 days apart, lasts 8 hours, and was to continue up until Christmas.  However, the method had reverted back to Thermal Imaging!  The observer confidently assures us that NOTHING could be missed, even IF vegetation was in the way (anyone see the news when Thermal Imaging was used to "see" the Bank protesters INSIDE their tents on the steps of St paul's cathedral?).  Indeed, the Thermal camera even found a tiny muntjac fawn, just days old, curled up in dense vegetation that night.

The observer saw no boar that night (6pm - 2am), and was told none were seen the previous night.  Friends of the Boar attended a meeting with the FC and Police on 22nd November to be told that no boar had yet been seen on the census (approximately 9 transects across 2/3rds of the Forest).  A police officer confirmed this because he was an independent observer on one of the last nights.

Question 1.  Do ALL the boar, who are now nocturnal according to the FC statement on the Autumnwatch article (go see for yourself - link to piece in a post below), hide perfectly behind what scant ground cover we have here (bracken, bramble and some low hung conifers), without a tail or nose poking out?  There are a few dense stands of bracken about granted, but are we really supposed to believe all 350 boar nervously run into these small and very fragmented areas of cover when the FC drives by?

Or could it be, that statistically, there are very few boar here?     IF there are 350 boar in the FoD as the FC contend (or 4 boar per square kilometre), then it seems statistcally unbelievable that none have been seen on several very long night-time surveys using state-of-the-art hardware.  If there are 50 boars, then it may be that the FC are just unlucky at finding some.

Question 2: Why did the FC change their minds about using Night-scoping, reverting back to Thermal Imaging when they already had reservations about that method?  Could this be because we showed them scientific evidence that Thermal Imaging DOES work and is vastly superior to Night-scoping (Focardi et al, Wildlife Society Bulletin, 2001 vol 29, pp133-139).

Are they seriously attempting to steer us all into thinking that nothing works so we have to revert back to their guesswork which will continue to promote the falacy that they need to keep increasing the hunting pressure (and financial incentives) each year?

Question 3:  Why, in both The Forester and Citizen newspapers today, does Ian Harvey state that this years' census is the first time they have used Thermal Imaging.......

"Forestry chiefs have admitted their wild boar census is showing there are far fewer animals than previously thought.  Chief wildlife ranger Ian Harvey said "We are not seeing the numbers we had anticipated.  But I'm fairly ambivalent about that because this is the first time we've approached this using this system".   The Citizen Nov 24th 2011.

Caught out yet again.  This is at least the second time this method has been used, so the FC MUST believe in it along with the scientists.  It works for deer, including tiny little ones about the size of a cat hidden motionless in vegetation.

It appears to us that the FC are persistent in attempting to decieve the public over numbers of boar to the extent they will ignore scientific sophistication to justify their own prejudice and are determined to carry on intensively hunting the boar FOR PROFIT until they are extinct or in such a stressed and diseased state that they will die off naturally.

"I think everyone is in agreement that we need...to get an estimate but this method won't necessarily be the one we use in the future."    Ian Harvey, The Citizen Nov 24th 2011.

The FC are playing games with your mind as well as endangering the health of domestic animals and the farming community here by encouraging a disease outbreak and/or a mass exodus of boar out of the forest onto farmland and into towns.

The FC have allegedly stopped the census (so the papers quote) and will resume it in January when there is less vegetation.  This tells me that the only vegetation of concern to the FC is bracken and bramble, and not conifers.

Since the Thermal Imaging cameras they use is very sophisticated Military equipment, I must now reassure all terrorists around the world that they should cover their houses and caves over with bracken or sleep under a bramble bush if they want to remain invisible from the search helicopters and spy satellites of our 21st Century military superpowers.

Keep coming back to the blog, there is much more to report and we hope to bring it to you very shortly...

DJS

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

£50,000 Per Year to Cull Wild Boar?

Kevin Stannard, deputy surveyor for the Forestry Commission in the Forest of Dean recently wrote an article for a local newspaper (The Citizen), regarding the wild boars in the region.
The article was full of flaws and inacurate information. To put some of this right and to give the general public a better view and understanding of wild boar management, I wrote a follow up article. However, it seems as though this newspaper has either been silenced by the FC, or they are not a pro wildlife media venture. Either way it is very sad that the truth behind wild boar management is once again being hidden from the general public, yet scaremongering is allowed and rife!

You can read Kevin's statements below, plus I have added the link to the original article. I strongly urge you to comment. ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE

My response is printed at the bottom of this post.


Kevin's Article
CULLING boar in the Forest of Dean costs £50,000 every year.
The startling figure was revealed by Kevin Stannard, of the Forestry Commission, who also admitted several wild boar culled had been shown to carry TB.
Giving a biannual boar report to the Strategic Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting of Forest of Dean District Council last week, he said: "It costs us around £40-50,000 a year to control the boar, and that's after revenue for game.
"All carcasses go to a game dealer in Herefordshire, but we do not shoot wild boar to fulfil a meat quota. The dealer gets whatever we shoot and the money from meat sales goes towards the management of the wild boar."
Furthermore, he added the population of wild boar in the district is growing but the exact figure is unknown.
He said that between April 2010 and March 2011, they culled 123 animals out of an estimated population of 350 wild boar. Their target was 150.
"From April 1 this year until now, we have culled another 154 so we have met our cull target and will not be culling again until targets are reviewed in April.
"Although the population is estimated at 350, there are probably a lot more. We will soon be doing a count using night cameras which will give us a minimum population figure."
Meanwhile, Mr Stannard said of the 400 culled in the past three years, three carcasses were found to be carrying TB.
He said: "Two were from woodland near Ross-on-Wye and the other was from the Forest of Dean. That ratio, three out of 400, is less than the ratio of TB found in deer. Every boar carcass is tested for diseases."
The issue of poachers was raised at the meeting and councillor Terry Haile (Con, Newland and St Briavels) fears for people's safety in the future.
He said: "Someone is going to get killed in the Forest because of poaching, it's got to stop."
Mr Stannard assured councillor Haile that the Forestry Commission were aware of poaching and the only way to stop it is for people to report gunshots to the police when they hear them.
He said: "If people hear gunshots at night on Forestry Commision land, it won't be us because we never shoot the animals at night due to safety issues. This must be reported to police. Also, we will never shoot a sow if she has piglets. However, if a sow is killed in a car accident we will try and find the piglets and kill them, otherwise they will starve to death."

____________________________________________

MY RESPONSE

Kevin Stannard’s recent article in the Citizen on the wild boars highlights his failings where this animal’s management is concerned in the Forest of Dean and it was nothing less than a blatant tactic to try and gain public support through scaremongering.
He stated that TB was found in three wild boar carcasses, two is Ross on Wye and the other in the Forest of Dean. However, what he failed to report is the fact that TB can be found and usually is found in deer carcasses after they have been culled. He is very quick to demonise the wild boars and provoke an outcry for their extermination through scaremongering, yet when TB is found in our deer, it is not publicised. Why? Because TB is and has always been out there, it doesn’t just appear from nowhere, it is in the soil and any mammal is susceptible to it, including deer and wild boar alike.
He then goes on to state that it costs us around £40-50,000 a year to manage this animal. What I would now like to see is a breakdown of the costs behind this figure.
For April 1st 2011 to date, he states that the FC has killed 154 boars. If the average price of a wild boar carcass is £300 when sold to his game dealer in Herefordshire, this equates to £46,200, but I am sure the average price for a wild boar carcass is much higher; unless the boars being shot are juveniles!
Where is the £50,000 going from the management of this animal? The FC has high seats dotted throughout the forest where they use bait to lure the boars in. They then shoot and remove them from the forest in a FC vehicle. I assume that after the man hours and the cost of the bullet to despatch the animal, there must be hidden costs? They already shoot the deer, so they already have the equipment required so there is no extra cost there.
We all know the cost of fuel has skyrocketed over the last few years; so maybe this is where the extra thousands are going?
One further question I have for Kevin Standard is this. Why have you released a statement declaring that you have already reached your cull target of 150 animals for this year and will not need to review this until April 2012? Why on earth do you persist on culling this animal while they have dependant young? Everyone who lives in the Forest of Dean will agree that the vast majority of hoglets are seen in the spring, so surely it would be morally right to suspend the cull at this time of the year, not in the autumn/winter months?
I once photographed a Forestry Commission high seat with a fallow deer carcass lying on the ground in front of it. The deer was obviously being used to lure the wild boars to the area, so they could be shot. This was found on 5th March 2011 when sows have dependant young and it was in an area where I was monitoring a sow and her 8 hoglets for a national project called 2020Vision with a good friend Andy Rouse. Around a week later we found the hoglets running around the area alone and it soon became evident that the sow was dead. Shot by Poachers or the FC, who knows?
Although the wild boars diet consists of food found while foraging on the forest floor, they are not fussy eaters and will eat whatever they come across, so a dear carcass is a good way of enticing them to a certain area.
There is no scientific evidence of how many boars we have living wild in the Forest of Dean, nor has there been any scientific study completed to show how many our forest can sustain.
Although I am 100% in favour of the management of the wild boars, I must stress that “management” is the key word and the over culling of this animal is where management turns to hunting! To pluck a figure of 350 out of the air, after admitting he has no idea how many are actually out there is just another tactic to gain extra support for the over culling of this animal.
To support our ongoing fight to see this animal treated right and fairly in the UK please sign the petition for seasonal protection at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/13423

Forestry Commission high seat with deer carcass.


Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Welcome to Friends of the Boar

Just a quick welcome to any new visitors to this site.  If you are a genuine friend of the boar or not, please read the posts below and let us have your comments and experiences of the boar. 

If you are not a friend please don't worry about leaving a comment.   We don't just want to "preach to the converted".  We hope we can change your mind, but we want to learn from you too.

We ask for your moral support only.  Please send an email, found in the About Us section, so we can add you to our list.  We occasionally send out circulars to keep you informed of events and boar news.

Please also consider signing the petition to HM Government to introduce a closed hunting season on the boar.  This can be found at the side under "Boaring Links" as well as in the main blog.  This is crucial if we are to control boar numbers so they have a secure and welcome home in the Forest of Dean and elsewhere, and also to include some welfare in their management.

If this is succesful, it will give our beautiful forests, not just in the Forest of Dean but elsewhere in the UK that supports wild boar, a much needed reprieve from death and suffering occuring around us so we can all together benefit from the healing space the Forest provides for our spiritual and mental well-being.

Many Thanks.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

What to do in an Encounter with a Wild Boar

A wild boar encounter can get your heart racing. 

Even experienced boar watchers continue to feel some adrenaline when boars come close, not just because they are large and supposedly unpredictable, but to have a large native wild animal so close is without doubt one of the best wildlife experiences you are likely to have in the UK.

But to some people, their closeness creates intolerable anxiety.  For whatever reason this exists, here is a typical example of an encounter in the hope it will help to relieve the fear.

You will be walking along a track, hopefully paying some attention to the beauty around, when up in front you see some dark shapes moving slowly at the verge.  They never stay still, walking about slowly as though they are searching for something.

You squint to see if they are dogs or sheep, but you see a tail swish. It's about the size of a sheep, maybe a bit smaller.  You start to realise these are boar.

Your scent will soon give you away, for Wild Boar have an incredible sense of smell.  When they pick it up you will see their noses go up, sniffing the air to get a sense of your direction.  This is often close to the end of the encounter, so take your photos now!

At least one of the boars will become more active now, usually a juvenile, and will walk towards you, maybe a little nervous, sometimes turning round to return to the others.  The move towards you is for a better look, for they have very poor eyesight.  Others may soon join in.  It may take just a few seconds for this to happen.

Now, this is not aggression.  They are not ganging up on you, but are being brave and facing their potential threat.  They are like children now, excited and about to be proud of warning mum that they have spotted you.  Mum may now join in, sniffing you and deciding whether to walk or run away.   If she decides to run, she will belt out a loud grunt or snort, and turn tail.  At this moment, all the younger boar will also flee at high speed away from you.  It's all rush and noise, and you hear feet stampeding away.  That's usually it.

Mum may stop shortly afterwards and take another look at you, maybe even walk back towards you.  Again, this is not aggression.  She is saying to you, "You saw how fast we are so don't bother following."  She will either stay and start feeding again, or if you move towards her in the hope of a photo, she will grunt again and run.

You may have stumbled across a much tamer boar.  In this instance the boar may come very close.  However, small piglets who have not yet learnt from mum to fear humans, can also approach very close.

Sadly, thanks to some people who have fed the boar, this boar may walk straight at you in the hope of another handout.  If you don't want this, stand tall and shout at her.  Move towards her confidently but not aggressively, and she will probably move out of your way.  If she follows you don't panic but keep walking away - she will soon get fed up.  Just be confident, if she is tame she will not hurt you.

The fear of a boar attack has become legendary.  Try and remember where this fear came from and you will soon remember something you read in the press, or was it the story from a friend of their encounter?  How did their encounter end?  Like the above we bet.  Sadly, stories over the centuries from hunters have led to charicatures of charging boar with big tusks.  Woe on the hunter who was afraid of such a docile creature.  Better that he makes a story up of how fearsome the boar was, and how brave he was to kill it!

There are youtube videos of boar attacks.  Take a look at how aggressive humans are, but be warned, they are not nice videos.  Nearly all attacks are upon hunters who are cornering boar, or sending dogs to rip up the boar, or boar who have been pinned down by dogs and humans and are being stabbed with knives, or wounded by crossbows or an inadequate bullet.

Even in these terrible circumstances for the boar, the boar attack is very fast and is not a charge made from many metres away.  The boar are close to the aggressor, maybe just a second or two away.  Some videos show the result of the attack.  A male thrusts upwards from the ground leaving cuts to the legs of the hunter before dashing off.   This is the usual sort of video, as it is the males that hunters prefer.  But males are far more shy than females and it is a very rare incident for a male boar to attack a human, even a hunter.  Males do not stand their ground to attack.  But females may if their piglets are threatened.

A female bites you.  Her head doesn't lower. Instead, look for her shackles on the shoulders to rise and maybe her tail stand erect.  She will also growl.  If ever you see this sign, move away confidently, maybe reassuring her with soft words rather than screams or shouts.  You may sometimes hear a growl from scrub where she is hiding with her piglets.  If you ever hear growling in the scrub, don't wait to see her, go back immediately from where you came.

This is where dogs are a problem.  If the female is nervous, and the dog is growling, barking or pulling at the lead, she may instinctively feel provoked and go for the dog.

It is testament to the boar that no dog owner has ever been targeted along with their dog.  This should hopefully reassure us all that the boar mean no harm to well-meaning humans.  If you have a nervous or aggressive dog and you come across a boar, it is very wise that you leave the area as quietly and quickly as possible.  Again, a boar will not charge from hundreds of metres away, only from close quarters.



If boar come close, keep aggressive dogs on the lead.  Maybe let the more sensible dogs free so they can keep away.  Above all, don't panic.  They may pick-up on your fear and agitation.  Almost all boar will not attack a well-behaved dog.

If you are surprised by a boar coming out of the trees onto your path, you may feel it more appropriate to let the dog off the lead.  The boar has appeared because it has scented your dog and wants a closer look.  The dog is probably faster than the boar, and provided the dog does not attack, it will probably remain unscathed.  Only do this if,  1. you know your dog will not attack the boar, and 2. the boar is very close already with hackles raised showing agitation.  Otherwise, keep the dog on the lead and walk away quickly.

Finally, here is a video of a recent encounter in the Forest of Dean.  It is five juveniles who have obviously had their mother shot.  You can hear the girl getting excited and also very anxious.  This is very normal of a first close encounter.  These boar are quite unafraid (with mum dead they will have to learn about humans the hard way) and do not run away as quickly as most.  See how their noses and hackles go up.  Sadly, she suggests throwing them some food.  This is perhaps due to her conditioning of wanting to feed animals. [Edit: She has contacted FOTB to say she was worried the boar hadn't seen her or partner so she wanted to feed them to alert the boar to human presence and so stop them having a heart attack - see comments below.]  As you see though, boar rarely accept food.



Please don't feed the boar!  Just enjoy their company with excitement and a sense of privelege.  Very few animals in the UK are as intelligent as these.  They are learning to live with us very quickly.  Can you learn to live with them?  We hope so.

David J Slater

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

AUTUMNWATCH - The Verdict

As ever, as followers of Autumnwatch and Springwatch will know, last week's airing was the usual rich tapestry of information, unusual wildlife encounters, and fun.  The addition of Michaela Strachan was nice to see, who added a touch of innocence (but thankfully not childish enthusiasm) to the programme.

We eagerly awaited the wild boar piece, and after having seen it were left with the mixed feelings of relief, but also of continued frustration.

The relief was mainly thanks to the BBC not letting the Forestry Commission turn the piece into their usual public relations exercise, nor letting the Forestry Commission recite all of their usual fearful statements such as them trying to protect us all from exploding populations, dog attacks, human attacks, road accidents and perceived "damage" to grass.  The Forestry Commission should be thankful for this too, because the nation would have soon realised that their culling is pre-emptive of adverse contact, and that no evidence of any unprovoked attacks on people or dogs as ever been proven.

But despite the programme claiming the wild boar are highly controversial, they did not say much about why, just leaving the viewer dangling with a lack of information, especially balanced information (ie about how many dogs are attacking boar and public perception of grass "damage").  Sure, we were delighted to hear Chris Packham claim the ecological advantages, Martin to be against killing piglets, and to question if we as a nation have become zoophobic (obviously based on George Monbiot's blog in the Guardian - see an earlier blog on here), but this is where the programme placed it's limits.

In the interview between Michaela and Ian Harvey, the FC's head ranger in the Forest of Dean, we heard him claim that management of the boar is to keep garden's safe!  Now we know too that he will feel agrieved that this is the main reason put forwards for management!  The only other thing of note he said was that there was no attempt to exterminate the wild boar.  [But of course not - the FC have contracts to fulfil with boar meat - and this is where differing interpretations of "management" may lay, not one of people versus boar, nor one of ecology versus timber, but of a sustainable "harvest".  If it was for our sake or the forest, the FC would be communicating with us regularly and working with us on a solution.  But they do not. Why?]

But Ian was wrong to claim this is the first attempt at a census.  The FC undertook one in 2009 using thermal imaging cameras.  They didn't find enough boar to fit their own belief of a high population, so disregarded the result.  In fact, the result proved that boar numbers were low!

Similarly, the contrary piece with Alastair Fraser and Michaela had a very flimsy response of boar numbers simply being lower than in the past.  But it was a true and useful statement that no-one knows the population of boar, including the FC despite their own protestations (until very recently).

Editing of both sides of the debate was ruthless and seemed to avoid almost any of the ongoing contentions here, for which we for sure are perplexed by.

In the filming of the boar at night we were watching three tame boar (we recognised those boar) munching on what could be acorns.  But it could have been baited maize too?  Notice that the daylight film of the boar had them mooching up the soil, not eating acorns! 

Three boars filmed at a wallow by FOTB in readyness for Autumnwatch arriving.  Recognise them?  Note the pale faced one.  Not striclty nocturnal are they?  What are they eating here - well it's not acorns - it's peanuts.  Compare this to the Autumnwatch night census scene.

Friends of the Boar were eventually asked to find for the film crew truly wild boar displaying natural behaviour.  A strange request considering a family or two of tame ones are doing the circuit at the moment!  But we rose to the challenge but it proved as usual, impossible given the low numbers of boar left.  So why was the BBC ok to film tame boar with the FC - and at night - when these boar could have been filmed during daylight?  This led to the suggestion on piece the boar are mainly nocturnal.  Not so.  It also suggested the boar are no longer tame (like they were when first escaped), even though they were filming tame boar at very close quarters. All very contradictory as usual when we hear the FC talking about boar.

Of course, it all could have been edited to detract poachers.  If so, and we agree this should have been a forethought, it failed.  It failed because it still led to the belief that there are an unknown, possibly high, number of boar here.  The fact that boar numbers are "possibly" low was not allowed, even though this is our major assertion.

All in all, we were glad to be mentioned by Autumnwatch, and we are thrilled to see so much response in the follow-up forum.  Hopefully, through more programmes such as Autumnwatch, the public will eventually become better educated with the debate, and with this, may be allowed to progress to the details.  This is the same with all the other controversial re-introductions of our long-disappeared species such as wolves, beavers and sea-eagles, for example.

Here is the Autumnwatch blog / forum for you to give your opinion on the Big Boar Debate (despite the debate never having been discussed on air):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/natureuk/2011/10/the-big-debate-wild-boars-in-t.shtml

Click here to watch the programme - the wild boar piece starts at 26.20 minutes in...and lasts for 7 minutes.

DJS

Thursday, 6 October 2011

AUTUMNWATCH

The popular BBC series Autumnwatch have been talking to Friends of the Boar over the last weekend, along with the Forestry Commission, to cover some of the debate about the boar.  Friends of the Boar helped to show the fim crew around.

We have no idea how the BBC will edit the piece, but we urge you all to watch it tomorrow (Friday) on BBC2 at 8.30pm.  It should be good.

We know it will show how a census is being done, and has interviewed Alastair Fraser who supports our claim that the boar numbers are very low through overculling and an unknown element of poaching.

Despite pre-filming talks between the BBC and Friends of the Boar, we feel that their promise to talk about issues of killing piglets and sows with young will not be aired "due to political reasons" (quote). 

We predict the following based on the fact that the BBC suddenly didn't want to ask questions of how we know numbers of boar are low, nor any questions concerning the cull data that PROVES the FC are killing piglets and juveniles and that the average weight (age) of boar is falling drastically.  Maybe the presenters will talk about this on-air?

We suspect the program will allow the Forestry Commission to decieve the public with half-truths on boar numbers. We know that the FC persist in the deceit that the current cull of 139 boar this year proves there must be many boar in the forest (vastly more than we claim), and without continued and increasing culling the "problem" of over-population will only get worse.

We suspect the Forestry Commission will not explain how overculling promotes breeding spurts due to compensatory rebound, nor will they explain that 50% of all boar culled are juveniles.  They will not explain that the cull so far achieved does not represent a snapshot of numbers, but a result of continual killing and rebound breeding in response.  This is why the boar need a closed season.  A closed season will prevent an over-population of boar and susceptibility to disease.  The FC's reluctance to follow a closed season is possibly a reluctance to allow boar numbers to drop - do they simply want to keep the culling high, the meat traders happy and the balance sheet improving?

We are sure they will continue to spread the popular myth that boar breed all year round and therefore a closed season is not "practical".  They will not explain that boar ONLY breed all year round due solely to the constant killing of piglets and juveniles that bring adult females straight back into oestrus.  They will not explain that constant year-round culling is unatural and unhealthy for the boar population.

Indeed, if asked, we expect the Forestry Commission to deny they kill piglets and juveniles at all!  This is their policy statement and are their orders from Defra.

We would like to remind Autumnwatch and people reading this of Kevin Stannard's (Deputy Surveyor) admission that killing piglets is necessary and ongoing in order to achieve his own arbitrary cull target based upon nothing but sticking a wet finger in the breeze.  And culling of piglets is becoming necessary because this is the dominant age group left within the boar population thanks to over-culling and non-selective numbers-based "management"!

Please click on image to read text


We would also like to draw attention to todays revelation about the way in which some Forestry Commission rangers have a deplorable attitude to the public who appreciate and adore the boar, the way they have a willful neglect of public safety, their willingness to scare the public, their willingness to display weapons in public, and also continue to pursue the celebrity Black Sow and piglets with the intention of an easy kill.

All this is despite personal assurances to Friends of the Boar that the harmless Black Sow and her piglets will no longer be targeted.  Of course, this assurance was before Autumnwatch came to film the Forestry Commission as "managers" of our wild animals.


Forester Newspaper 6th October 2011:
EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT OF THE FC INTENTION
TO KILL PIGLETS AND A TAME BLACK SOW

We will update this with an analysis of the show after it is aired tomorrow.  Watch this space as they say!

DJS

Three Massive Wild Boars Run Away From Dogs!

I thought I had read and heard it all where the wild boars are concerned. "Scaremongering that is", until I read the following letter sent into a local newspaper from "anonymous."

______________________________

I WAS taking my dogs for a walk over to the wood by Pillowell Recreation Ground. When I arrived there I looked around and faced my worst nightmare as three massive boar had come out of the wood and were in the middle of the ground in among my dogs.
I screamed and called by dogs to me. We were very lucky as the boar ran back into the wood. I was so scared that I went back home.
I’m surrounded by woods but I am afraid to go into any of them now. The boar have taken over, though this was the first time I have seen them at Pillowell Recreation Ground.
But they have arrived, as you can see by the mess on the side of the road from Whitecroft to Lydney where they have dug up the edges.
We must have a cull. The Forestry Commission could make some money by selling boar meat.
It’s gone on for far too long now. Someone has to stop the boar. Please, round them up. The boar have taken over the Forest. It’s no longer safe to walk in our woods.
_____________________________

Now lets break this down...

I WAS taking my dogs for a walk over to the wood by Pillowell Recreation Ground. When I arrived there I looked around and faced my worst nightmare as three massive boar had come out of the wood and were in the middle of the ground in among my dogs.
I screamed and called by dogs to me. We were very lucky as the boar ran back into the wood. I was so scared that I went back home.

Firstly, you say that you faced your worst nightmare. This tells me that you already have a great fear of this animal. I wonder where this fear comes from? Maybe from reading articles or having conversations where the wild boar are being demonised.
Wild boar do not attack dogs unless provoked and although I admit that the sight of three boars around your dogs must have been daunting, your dogs obviously did nothing to provoke them, which means they were under control and returned to you when called back. And lets not forget the fact that it was the boars that ran away.



I’m surrounded by woods but I am afraid to go into any of them now. The boar have taken over, though this was the first time I have seen them at Pillowell Recreation Ground.

The boars have not taken over the forest. They are free living wild animals that have a territory, just like our deer. The fact is that as soon as this "small" sounder moves on, the chances that you will see another one in daylight hours will be very slim. There is no need to be scared of this animal.


But they have arrived, as you can see by the mess on the side of the road from Whitecroft to Lydney where they have dug up the edges.

Mess? I have a different view on what you call mess. Exposed dirt at the roadside and deep in the forest is just that; DIRT!
These rootings expose insects and grubs and many times I have seen small woodland birds taking advantage of this as they follow the boars around; especially in winter.
I have also seen orchids growing from the exposed soil, where the boars have again exposed dormant seeds in the ground.
What I call mess is a Saturday night / Sunday morning around our towns. Litter, including old tyres in the ditches that run parallel to our roads. Old discarded fencing strewn around our forest. Big ruts along foot paths where FC and Contractor vehicles have ploughed through.
Out of sight, out of mind?



We must have a cull. The Forestry Commission could make some money by selling boar meat.

Erm... They are being culled and the FC is making money from the carcasses and have been for a very long time.


It’s gone on for far too long now. Someone has to stop the boar. Please, round them up. The boar have taken over the Forest. It’s no longer safe to walk in our woods.

This is scary. You obviously hate these animals with a passion! I just hope that one day we, as a human race are not looked on in the same light. Look at what devestation we have caused this planet. Just walk into your back garden and take a look around. I would be surprised if there wasn't some exposed dirt out there. Ok for us to do it though, right!

1. Who has to stop the boar? They are a living wild animal that didn't ask to be dumped in the forest. And how would you stop them, shoot them all? Would you be happy then; after they have been eradicated from our forests just so you can walk your dog?
2. Round them up? You obviously have no understanding of the wild boar at all and this is why you hate them so much.
3. As mentioned earlier, they have not taken over the forest. It is safe to walk there and always will be.

Original article here...
http://www.forest-and-wye-today.co.uk/Letters.cfm?id=36715&headline=Not safe in the woods

Thursday, 22 September 2011

My First of Many Encounters

It was a normal day in March 2004 when I was first alerted to the fact that wild boar had been released into the wild in the Forest of Dean.
Even though it was late in the evening and the light was fading fast, I grabbed my gear and with a friend I made my way to the village of Staunton, where they supposedly were. I must admit, I had my doubts and I didn't have a clue where to start searching, but there was no way I was going to just sit back and ignore the tip off!
We had been walking for approx 15 minuets when we approached a bend in the Forestry Commission track and it was at this moment that I heard a grunt; my first wild boar in the Forest of Dean.
Now filled with adrenaline and not knowing what we were going to see, we slowly crept around the bend. Around 20 metres away standing in the track was a young boar, probably around 8 months old and jet black. He was just standing there, staring into the forest.
I raised my camera very slowly, as if my life depended on it and photographed him just before he walked away into the forest.
This was just too much; the excitement of finding them within 15 minuets was fantastic, but "this glimpse" just fueled us to track them for a better look.
Neither myself, nor Paul had any experience with this animal and we didn't have a clue if they would become aggressive if approached, but this opportunity was not to be missed!
As we crept slowly up the track we were 100% focused on the area where we had seen the young boar disappear into the forest and we were both totally oblivious to the fact that a large sow and 6-8 hoglets were standing in the forest just to our right; watching us!
Both Paul and I have spent many years tracking animals in the Forest of Dean and we are just as alert to each other, as we are with our surroundings.
I don't know who saw her first as neither of us said a word as we stood there, no more than 10 metres away, staring at a large mammal, which has been absent from our forests for more than 700 years!
The light was almost gone as we stood there staring at each other when she gave a small grunt. Her hoglets took off with her not far behind and the encounter was over.

The young boar from my first encounter. The quality of this photograph might be poor, but along with the whole encounter, it will stay with me forever!



Education must be the key for humans and the wild boars to co-exist in a changed world. This site will give facts and first hand accounts, which will put to bed all the scare stories surrounding this secretive animal.

My Final Thought......
I have alrady touched on education as being the key to this animals survival and for a healthy balance between humans and the boars.
One thing that has to be Top Priority is for certain members of the general public to STOP FEEDING the boars. To take a bag of apples to a car park and hand feed this animal might seem like it is the highlight of your day, or even your year. When in reality, it should be the worst!

1. You are enticing a wild animal to approach humans and not everyone will have a free hand out to please them.
2. They will associate humans as a food source and this will be passed on to their young.
3. Think of the wider public. Not all want a close encounter with this animal.
4. YOU are raising the stakes and directly contributing to the possibility of a dog, boar incident!
5. And finally. Even though they may seem tame and friendly, they are still wild animals and they have a very nasty bite. If you are bitten, will you condemn them through your own stupidity?

Neither I, nor Friends of the Boar condone the feeding of this animal.


Rob Ward

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Boar Digging or Boar Damage?

Wild boar deliver a much needed ecological niche.  They are nature's gardeners and wild flower seed dispersers (seeds lodge in their fur).  The flowers attract insects which in turn attract birds.  The birds attract their predators and so on.  Bare soil also attracts insects and reduces unwanted vegetation such as bracken. 

The soil is the foundation of all life.

The boar are one of the few animals to uncompact the sterile earth, much of which exists along our heavily abused woodland rides from logging operations and timber stacking.  Moles are another.  Worms another.  Any call to kill or limit the boar for their "damage" should also be a call to kill or limit moles and worms too.

Our road verges are almost flowerless, a haven for human litter and tyre ruts.  Now they are being rotivated, and thanks to the boars the flowers are once again coming back into view throughout Spring and Summer.  We should celebrate these visual signs of a healthy ecosystem.


Orchids growing through recent wild boar diggings. (Click to enlarge).

Yet boar digging at roadsides and amenity grassland is a contentious issue here, and is now the primary propaganda used by the anti-boar sector.  Roadsides seem to be the only bit of forest some residents see as they travel in their polluting cars around the roads.  Gone have the tales of boar running at people, or dogs being savaged for no reason (these stories have been debunked).  It is now the road and amenity diggings that are being used to vilify the boars.  The way the media ask the questions about perception of boar diggings exposes the agenda to sensationalise and place fear and anger in the minds of the unwary.

But consider this.  Is not a road already "damage" to the environment?   Even the Forest of Dean itself is not natural but managed, being continuously felled, rotivated and replanted - often with non-native tree species?  Picnic sites are "damage" to the natural environment, as are cars, burger vans and of course litter.  If the people, upset at boar digging the roadsides, could take a walk along some of the forest tracks here, they would see a much greater offense of those verges....


             
Many track verges throughout the Forest of Dean have been "damaged" by the Forestry Commission (click to enlarge images).


 Is the planting of non-native trees "damage", or the scars, tree litter and ruts left behind after felling also "damage"? (click to enlarge images).

What we are looking at when we see boar digging is an ancient and natural process.  That some people like a manicured edge to nature, are offended by bare earth or grassy bumps  is a modern condition, an illness almost, of zoophobia or fear of animals and nature. Read this week's Guardian (click here) on this subject and wild boar.  Thanks to George Monbiot for following us up on the call for a closed season and more scientific management of the boar.

Stories of people being trapped in cars or their houses because a boar is close by is more proof of our loss of instinct and giving our minds over to those who write the words in a newspaper.


People who complain about boar digging roadside verges should take a look at the greater "damage" done by the Forestry Commission in their pursuit of profit and livelihood. Is the boar not entitled to its livelihood too? (Click to enlarge image).

Human-centric thinking puts wildlife and nature second.  People who complain about road verges being dug up and call it "damage", should also complain about exisitng roads, houses and tourist attractions - should they not?  Maybe we should tarmac over everything and get rid of all nature so those who fear animals or untidyness can rest easy?

Celebrity Status

It's been a tense week here in the Forest of Dean.  Leaked information of the Forestry Commission "going after" the black sow and her piglets made for a quick and angry response from Friends of the Boar.  This friendly young family is possibly one of the best wildlife events for many years, and should really be making national news.  We have been getting her some publicity in the local press, calling on the papers, radio and TV to get her some coverage.  But like many media outlets, they are slow to react and rarely cover even 10% of what we want to say.

But she is surviving and is still giving residents and tourists a rare treat of a close wildlife encounter.

A natural scene from our distant past.  Humans living alongside our ancient animals. (click to enlarge).

It is a medieval, and many say, a natural scene.  She "belongs" here, seeming to fit into the landscape as much as the trees do (unlike the sheep we have roaming free and alongside roads).  And so she would do, as this is a native wild animal.

Many generations on now from captivity, when these wild boar were being brought from Europe for breeding with domestic pigs.  They are not feral (escaped domestic animals like cats and dogs living wild), and never have been because they have always been "wild boar".  An escaped mink from a fur farm or muntjac from a zoo are not termed feral and neither should the boars. The label of "feral" was a government response to appease farmers and hunters, as feral status infers no legal protection.  They are the genuine article and need protection such as a closed season and licensing regulations on firearms used to kill them.

Long may they live without fear and persecution for doing their great and ancient job of natural forest management.



DJS

Monday, 12 September 2011

Do Not Feed The Boar

Since the last posting, the black sow and her 6 piglets has been admired by hundreds of passers by.  She stayed for 4 days and has now moved on.  We didn't want to say exactly where she was because of fears of either poaching or opportunist culling.  She is so tame and friendly that she is an easy target.  The event was amazing because boar sightings are now very rare indeed in the Dean - she has certainly made up for this for us.

Her appearance in the forest close to Speech House had the public talking and questioning.  She brought into the light many of the issues surrounding the wild boar and its management that Friends of the Boar are trying to promote.



Firstly, wild boar are not dangerous and are a joy to behold. A large native wild mammal that we as a species have grown up with, unlike other Forest of Dean favourites such as fallow deer, mandarin duck, rabbit, brown hare, little owl and grey squirrel.

Secondly, we noted that several well-wishers were feeding her.  Please do not feed the boar!  We are their friends yes, but feeding will ultimately be their demise.  Wild Boar can very quickly become habituated to people.  This is nice we agree, BUT, there are poachers as well as rangers who will kill her and her piglets if at all possible. 

The FC are very afraid of any boar becoming aggressive towards people, which may arise due to boar "expecting" food.  At the moment, the FC will pre-empt this by an immediate bullet despite this aggression never having occured  We believe this is wrong of course and are trying to get a policy change on this - but it will only be possible if no feeding by the public or the FC is enforced.

Articificial feeding of boar can give them the sufficient nutrition to bring them into season more than once a year.  This also brings their existence here into question due to fears of population explosion (mostly unfounded we claim when well managed).

True wild boar living a wild existence only have one litter per year, of up to 6 piglets.  This has been shown to be the case right across Europe. Yet a minority of the boar here are potentially hybridised with domestic pigs.  DNA studies are not conclusive, but if so these few boar, and their offspring, may breed more than once a year - all due to selective tampering with nature as is usually the case with meat bred for profit.  It is our experience that the wild boar in the Dean do not have excessive numbers of piglets per brood (usually 4-6), but it is not certain just how often they give birth due to uncertainties surrounding piglet deaths, population density or nutrition.

Wild Boar as a pure strain have a gestation period of 4 months, and after birth will stay with their piglets for a further 3-4 months.  There just isn't enough time for 2 litters a year unless her piglets are shot or die, when in that case the sow will come back into season.

We don't believe feeding by people is to blame for any over-population - yet, after all, the Forestry Commission and Defra have been feeding the boar intensively over the last few years as part of a contraceptive research programme (looking to lace contraceptives into baited maize at special feeder sites), and also at baited high seats where rangers shoot any boar unfortunate enough to be hungry and lured into a kiling zone.

Thankfully, we are told by the FC, that feeding has stopped.  But the FC need to understand that the population explosion they quoted in the press throughout 2010 into early 2011 could well be (if it was true) as a result of overculling (with the usual population rebound to follow) and their own baiting stations, some of which also included deer carcasses.

We would love this sow and her piglets to live long and become a tourist attraction.  She is very unusual for being so approachable, which may be due to her orphan status (her mother shot) whereby she was not given the experience from her parents about humans, or roads for that matter. She is also a very young mother, with her first piglets when she must have been about 6 months old.  This again may be due to high nutrition availability, but also if population numbers here in the Dean are very low some process perhaps involving pheromones is stimulating early breeding in young sows.  A well managed population should eliminate this effect.

In some ways her friendliness could be her saving grace, as poachers and FC culls will not shoot close to human dwellings or at tourist spots.



She is very distinctive, and if you see her, could you please get in touch with us and let us know where she is.  We want to protect her not just from the guns but also from the public who may be feeding her.

DJS

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Almost Everyone Loves The Boar

The Forest of Dean is on THE map.  Many of us in Friends of the Boar have been saying for some time just how special our forest is.  But lttle do most residents actually realise that our forest is TRULY special.  Nowhere else in the British Isles are you more likely to come into contact with our ancient Wildwood species of animal.

The recent scare over the sell-off of Britain's forests into private hands created a public outcry here in the Forest of Dean with protest marches occuring regularly.  Many of the "action" groups, including Hands Off Our Forest (HOOF) got much of the attention, but few of this group could actually state the case well - just WHY is the Forest of Dean so special.  Most quoted landscape, history or tradition, but amazingly to us, nobody quoted wildlife as the reason.

In recent weeks the wild boar are making themselves conspicuous again by roadside "mootings".  It is the rut and the boar are on the move.  It's a seasonal event and we predict all the usual press stories about how the boar are damaging gardens and picnic sites.  It is so droll, and most of the criticism is coming from people who moved from a town, into the Forest, not realising there would be wildlife here!  Sadly, people like to complain, and very few of us will write to the press with good stories.  Please write your good stories!


So here is one.

We are glad to say that wellwishers are everywhere.  A recent event (first week of September 2011) had a very young sow with six piglets visiting a local beauty spot and had residents and tourists alike smiling and wishing good health and future for the boar.  They created an instant traffic jam as people rushed from their cars to take a photo.  The energy and enthusiasm for the event was brilliant and heartwarming.

The boar pictured above are typically friendly.  A very young sow, maybe just under a year old, has six very cute and amazingly friendly piglets at her side.  She must be one of the youngest mothers ever experienced here in the Forest.  Everyone was delighted to get so close to them.  Even a child can be safe in their presence....(despite the fearmongering over the last 5 years)..


A young toddler of one of the members of Friend of the Boar enjoys her natural heritage

The potential for this family of boar to create a tourist attraction is tremendous.  Please ignore the ridiculous hype about how dangerous these animals are.  Here is photographic proof from early September 2011 to show you the FACTS.

But Friends of the Boar know all too well that this family will be easy pickings for the meat trade.  By the meat trade, we mean the Forestry Commission, who have legal contracts to sell boar "venison" to private traders.  If they fail to provide they will be sued.  They also have a public relations commitment to achieve a cull target, decided by sticking a wet finger into the breeze and thinking of a number! (see blog entry below).

If you are appauled by the possibilty that the above sow and her adorable and extremely friendly piglets will be shot dead purely in order to fulfil legal contracts, and as a bit of sport by FC hunters, then please sign the petition for a closed season (below).  Please please get in touch with us to add your name as a supporter of the wild boar here in the Forest of Dean and elsewhere around the country.

DJS.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Support the Call for a Closed Season on Hunting Boar


The Provision of Seasonal Protection for Wild Boar in the UK

Responsible department: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

"The Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) was a native species of the UK until extinction through loss of habitat and conflict with man. The wild boar has now though escapes and deliberate releases become free living in many areas of the UK such as the Forest of Dean where they have flourished. These are highly intelligent timid animals that are often misunderstood. This controversial species needs specific legislation to protect breeding females during the times of the year when they give birth and have dependent young who rely on the mother. Now hunted as a ‘game’ animal with commercial value this species deserves the same seasonal protection given to other game animals including deer, wildfowl and game birds to prevent suffering when females are shot and dependant young are left to starve to death. This petition seeks the provision of a closed season to protect breeding females and their young as is in place throughout Europe for this species."

Please sign this petition at: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/13423, and circulate to friends and family.


Friends of the Boar was contacted by Paul Adkins, who started this petition when he realised the situation with wild boar "management" arising in Southern Scotland is the same in The Forest of Dean, namely uncontrolled, unscientific culling as is outlined in the recent Guardian article (link in previous blog).

It is apparent that the current culling regime is more like hunting without rules, rather than sound game management.

A closed season would allow the population dynamics to recover, herd immunity to improve, and of course a chance for tourists and wildlife lovers a chance to see the wild boar in British woodland.  Peristent persecution by year-round killing not only stresses these intelligent animals, but may make them feel threatened in the presence of human scent.  A closed-season is of the utmost urgency.  Please sign it.

Part of the whole problem here lies with the Government's (Defra) reluctance to drop the "feral" status of the wild boar.  The feral label allows hunting by landowners, farmers and private game shoots without the usual protections afforded to wild animals under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).  Feral animals tend to be treated as sport and something fun and irrelevent to kill.  The boars are only legally protected from cruelty - which is something that cannot obviously be policed where carried out on private land.  Is it co-accident that the Government are looking into scrapping the Wildlife and Countryside Act very soon?