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.


video

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?

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Wild Boar Culling is a Guess admit the Forestry Commission

After some effort by Friends of the Boar to get the Guardian newspaper to run a story about the dangerous mismanagement of the wild boar by the Forestry Commission, it has finally been published today.  Follow this link to see the online version:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/sep/01/wild-boar-cull

The Guardian promise us they will do a follow up piece if they get enough interest via online comments or letters, so please let your views be known.

The article is unanimous that previous culling and management has been based upon guesswork.  But the article only concludes there is a danger of extinction - once again!

We claim this has been dangerous mismanagement with more serious implications.

The culling started in 2008, and was a knee-jerk reaction by the Forestry Commission after calls of "something must be done" by the District Council acting on behalf of farmers and concerned public who had digested and believed in the many "scare" stories in the local press.  Due to lack of any previous research or prior knowledge of wild boar ecology and movements,the cull was almost forced upon the FC and therefore, they had to go at it blind.

But lately, fears of over-culling from people like "Friends of the Boar" have been ignored.  Wild Boar sightings have plummeted over the past 2 years, and even the FC admit it is difficult to find them to kill! But paradoxically, the FC have increased their estimates of a cull target!  They have reacted in total opposition to what seems appropriate to many people, including us.  The FC based increasing cull targets upon fears of a population explosion of the boar - which was basically based upon increased road verge diggings - a totally unscientific and ridiculous method of census or population-change for many reasons.

We worry that over-culling will lead to huge problems in Wild Boar health not least the actual promotion of a population explosion as the wild boar attempt to re-fill the natural carrying capacity of the forest (an explosion that the FC will counter by more killing - and so the problem snowballs...a hunter's dream!).

It has been shown many times that culling badgers has always led to more Tb outbreaks.  This is due to several factors, not least the stress an individual badger may be subjected to, thus lowering its immunity.

Boar are the same.  Immunity is encouraged throughout the "herd" by cross suckling piglets and mothers, and also by some older boar being low-dose carriers of certain viruses and bacteria.  These carriers are nature's natural vaccinations.  Kill these older animals and the vaccination (or naturally aquired immunity) disappears, leaving a population more susceptible to disease.

Tb exists in the soil all the time.  It does not fall from the sky or appear magically from nowhere.  When immunity is lowered by stress or poor cull management, Tb can begin to infect individuals that had up until then immunity to it.  Intensive farming of cows is stressful for the cow - hence their susceptibility to Tb.  Brutal killing of badger families is the same, and again for intelligent creatures like wild boar.

And what is on the cards for the badgers?  A huge cull and population crash!

We need to state the obvious here, and ask that our views are lobbied to MPs, the FC and the press.  It is up to you.

DJS