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.


Thursday, 24 November 2011


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...


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."



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.