Tuesday, 27 March 2012

SECRETS OF THE BOAR NUMBER DEBATE AND ORGANISED POACHING

On 17th January 2012, Friends of the Boar (David Slater) attended a meeting with Forest of Dean Councillors, the Forestry Commission and the local police force to chat about poaching.

Five relevant crime protection officers were present and between them they insisted that poaching incidents were not on the rise.  They were adamant that levels of poaching in the Forest of Dean were at usual background levels and did not seem to be different ever since the introduction of wild boar.

The very same day the Telegraph newspaper reported that poaching figures were at an all time high and a crackdown was being launched.  This report came on the back of a New year's Day article in the Guardian claiming that deer poaching figures had trebled and the police were accused of failing to act.

In the case of deer, reports of nationwide poaching in 2008 was 71, in 2009 was 105, 2010 was 106 and in 2011 it was at 335.  Christmas, the report claimed, is a traditional time for poaching activity to increase. 

Fortuitously, this was the precise time during which the Forestry Commission had been undertaking their own night-time census of deer and wild boar in late 2011, a census taking place over 3 nights per week for several weeks leading up to Christmas.. 

We asked the Forestry Commission had they detected any poaching, including warm carcasses or guts left after gralloching (gutting).  The answer was not a single suspicion had been found.  It also turned out that a police officer had attended some of the census as a friend of the Forestry Commission's own rangers (Simon Clement, 1256 - Officer for Rural and Environmental Issues).

My local police force rubbished the national report, defending the police across the country -claiming that poaching only seemed to be on the rise due to more people reporting incidents - incidents, the police claim, often turn out to be legal shooting events by the Forestry Commission or private landowners.  This is often the case in the Forest of Dean because the Forestry Commission go out on regular intervals throughout the year to shoot in the Forest (Fallow, Muntjac and Roe Deer, Boar, Squirrels).

Officially, therefore, poaching in the Forest of Dean is almost non-existent.  Requests by Friends of the Boar using Freedom of Information, reveals that only 5 incidents were recorded since 2004.  Two events ended with just cautions, two events ended in summons to court, and one event had three individuals charged.

It certainly seems that the Forest of Dean police have a remarkably easy time with poaching when compared to other forested regions of the UK.

One huge problem with poaching figures collected by the police is that they do not discriminate between someone fishing without a licence and someone with a gun looking for deer or boar.  We can only conclude that the police and government have no real interest in poaching.  Time and again, the only statement the police will make is that they urgently require members of the public to report anything suspicious.

Now, what Friends of the Boar do know, is that many incidents have been reported in the last year.  On every occasion, the police are alleged to have been totally uninterested in the report.

So we ask you to report anything unusual such as strong lamps in the forest, people returning to vehicles with dogs in the night, gunshots, and so on.  We will see if your reports ever make it to the official recording?

So is there any other way we can ascertain poaching figures?  Yes, we can speak to the poachers themselves and we can ask the Forestry Commission.

The former has been done with a few known poachers, and the varying degrees of evasiveness, generalisation and even exaggerated claims of the huge numbers of boar claiming to have been killed by them alone, leaves us with no firmly believable figure. 

Some poachers claim to have single-handedly shot 50 boar in one year on private land.  We find this hard to believe simply because we can't think of how so many boar would enter a particular field so often, even with the use of bait!  And of course, many private boar shooters do use bait (giving rise to artificially supported populations - see last article).

Friends of the Boar asked Kevin Stannard, Deputy Surveyor of the local Forestry Commission, at another meeting with Councillors, as to what he believed the poaching figures for boar in 2011 was and he answered with a figure of between 150-200 boar. [add this to the 150 the FC shot last year, plus the 450 he claimed to be running free as of that meeting puts the TOTAL boar population at 750-800 boars!!!!  Clearly, one of his figures is preposterously high]

How he arrives at such a poaching figure should be questioned.  We for one have tried to calculate poached boar and deer numbers from poachers themselves and we would struggle to account for this many, unless of course you believe one man can attract 50 boar per year onto his land!  If you do, then I am sure the Forestry Commission and police know of him!

But, interestingly, we have been told about some of the private boar shoots that go on around the Forest of Dean District (one outfit near Littledean has amongst its clientele/operators both local Councillors and Queens Counsel, or QC).  These are places were both legal sport shooters and illegal poachers meet and talk.  And we learn that not only do Forestry Commission rangers attend these meets, they also help to organise them! This information came from the Forestry Commission themselves as well as from other independent witnesses.

So perhaps the Forestry Commission know more about poaching than is comfortable for there is surely a conflict of interest here.  The Forestry Commission are managers of a public forest estate with a remit, along with the Verderers, to PROTECT the venison and the vert.

In the last week, there has been local newspaper reports stating that the Forestry Commission, although still with an unfinished census, are putting 2012's wild boar population at 200-250.  This is a bit of a lowering to last January's unquestinable assessment!

But once again, this figure is an insult to any intelligent naturalist who knows the forest.  We have reports that the actual number of boar seen on the census is no more than 30, including the 16 supposedly seen in 2011 (except they weren't, they were seen on a night out with Autumnwatch using baited locations and tame boars!).

For the last 4 or 5 years, the Forestry Commission has vigorously defended boar numbers that in hindsight have always been approximately TREBLE the true figure.

A third of this year's 200-250 boars leaves us with a close-to-real figure of approximately 70-80, including new piglets.

That the Forestry Commission halted shooting until September is a blessing right at the doorstep of extinction - do the FC know the population "within the trees" of the forest have plummeted and are close to unsustainable.  Any cull target set for this year and probably next year as well would be devastating to the future health and number of remaining boar.)

The surplus boars in their figure, it has now to be concluded, are the number of boar the Forestry Commission expect to be shot on organised shoots and by poachers (a figure of approximately 150-160 for 2012 - a figure that equals the Forestry Commission's own for 2011).

It would seem that the number of boar outside the forest now outnumbers that within.

Obviously, this is not sustainable nor natural.  There is an obvious suggestion here then that organised shooters are using bait.  Any landowners who do not want boar on their land may do well to criticise these organised shoots! 

But bait is not enough to account for such high poaching figures.  There must also be an organised network of poachers / legal shooters called to private land by mobile phones, shooters ready to drop everything at a moments notice to go and shoot boar at night.

The Forestry Commission need to exaggerate numbers within the forest to account not only for what they shoot within the forest but also what the organised shooters take outside of the forest - numbers that are probably passed on to Forestry Commission rangers via rumour, and between other like-minded friends.

How the organised shoots get so many boar to be on land at a given time and place (people pay a lot of money to be spoon fed boar in front of their guns) is a question you should ask yourself! 

One potential answer to account for the unnatural success of organised shooters is the continual introduction of captive boar onto land - yes, boar released from farms on purpose for sport.  Some of these tame boar will ultimately escape and find there way into the Forest and hence refuge.

So, with networks operating between shooting friends, why do you think the police claims little to no poaching goes on and seem utterley disinterested in investigating poaching? 

We are on the verge of uncovering the truth now.

DJS

3 comments:

  1. Blimey - I knew there were some dodgy goings on but did not realise quite how bad it is. I have heard a lot of gun shots in the past 2 or 3 weeks mostly in the 'central' forest area, Kensley, Dilke, Woorgreens area - or at least that is where is seemed to be coming from. Not at night but in the mornings around 8 to 10am.

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  2. I have seen the FC Rangers out shooting squirrels in these areas, with shotguns. This is not them, shooting boar.

    I cannot work out what Dave is getting at, this time. There are still lots of boar in the forest. I see them on my regular wanders through the Dean, every day. They are somewhat wilder than they used to be, but they are still there in good numbers.

    Shooting of boar on the outside of the forest(ie not by the FC), is, as Dave said, unregulated. Boar are not protected in the same way, as other "Sporting Species" (eg deer, pheasants, ducks) with Closed Seasons (protected times of year, when they can not be killed). But, Boar are protected under general wildlife laws, which cover methods for control and animal welfare/cruelty.

    If the boar are to live, as a native species, outside of FC ground, it is up to the public, to voice their concerns to their MP about the inclusion of Boar within the UK's Game Legislation. This would protect them at sensitive times of the year (Feb-July for rearing their young for example), but enable them to be managed, as a legitimate and respected species by the sporting fraternity. This can be reviewed, as was the Deer Act (a couple of years ago), to see how the species is doing.

    Poaching and legitimate shooting are getting confused in Dave's article and this is not good. Poaching of animals is done by people, who do not have the permission of the landowner or their agent to carry out this act, even when it is done by legitimate means (ie shooting). The shooting of animals by legitimate hunters with permission, by legal means is OK. I say OK, as it may not sit well with some of us, as their motives are not in line with ours. This said, we must understand that Boar may not be welcome everywhere they may travel.

    Boar are a woodland animal, but are very adaptive in their utilisation of other habitats. This can get them into a pickle with farmers. The Dean is surrounded by hard working farmers. Their crops and their livestock are their livelihood. They can and need to keep the Boar population, which is resident in the Dean area at a level, which does not endanger their living.This must be done legally and humanely by skilled and dedicated hunters with the right weapons.

    I guess in a way the FC must also take a responsible line in trying to keep this population of Boar inside the forest boundary, for the benefit of it's neighbours. It must also consider that it is a Public Forest, where the public can walk freely. Unlike the private farms/estates, where there is limited access via footpaths,bridleways,etc. The Boar population must not become tame and thus lose it's fear of man. Everyone wants to see the Boar and other wonderful wildlife in the Forest of Dean. But we must understand that it cannot become a safari park of semi-tame wild animals for our pleasure. It is not good for the wildlife and it will not satisfy our interest in them for long. Soon, if we are unlucky, will come the petting zoo.....So be careful what you wish for!!?

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  3. Hi Forest Imp, although I confess there is one paragraph that may be confusing with regard to poachers as those who shoot on private land, I do not see any other confusion.

    We get lots of tip offs about poachers as well as legitimate shooters, and to distinguish between them is getting harder.

    Consider if someone owns a stretch of river and sells fishing rights. Is it poaching if another person either traps or poisons the fish before entering the stretch in question, and is it poaching if someone digs a channel to divert the river (and fish) into their own lake? I would yes it is.

    Poachers as well as private landowners are baiting or otherwise encouraging the wild boar to divert them from their natural wanderings and into the sights of a gun. And once on private land the gates are closed and the boar not allowed to return so easily. I can easily imagine that many boar are trapped like this to be sold at a high price to organised shoots.

    What is really puzzling is the sheer lack of boar diggings in the wider countryside around the Forest of Dean. If we are to believe the poachers and Forestry Commission about boar deaths outside the forest, then we should be seeing a hell of a lot of boar diggings on farmland. We are not. There is really only 2 conclusions – the poachers and FC are making it all up, or the boar are making beelines to bait without stopping on route.

    If yourself or anyone has ANY evidence right NOW of boar diggings on FARMLAND OUTSIDE of the main Forest of Dean, let me know as I desperately want some photos of it – I have requests for this subject all the time from editors!

    And of course, once trapped on this land, a poacher may also try to steal it – hence poaching on private land! We have at least two leads to support this, one from ex-Councillor Frazer (who has given his permission for us to quote him as a witness to poaching) who owns some orphaned wild boar (some rescued from bungled poaching / trapping incidents). He has had several attempts by some people to free his boar, presumably for the purposes of shooting them for profit.

    I agree with you that many legitimate shooters are law abiding. But what is strange to me is that I know these shooters mix with poachers, and each knows who the other is. If legitimate shooters do care about conserving wild boar, then why the silence from them? The Forestry Commission says nothing to deter poachers, same with the police, and the same with the legitimate shooting fraternity.

    The other blurred lines with which you remark is firearms and wildlife legislation. I know this is straying from topic but since you added it to the debate I will add this - Every gun is licenced specifically to shoot boar. But what is sufficiently deemed to be capable is only laid down in government guidelines and not law. Therefore, we have landowners and poachers who do try to use 12-bore shotguns, for example, to kill wild boar – a totally dangerous practice for them and the public.

    A farmer may also stab or poison or maim a wild boar, if, as you say, he subjectively considers his precious crops may be under threat from a nearby or foraging boar. The wildlife laws you claim are in place with regard to animal welfare (The Mammal Act and Wildlife & Countryside Act) are totally inept to prevent cruelty and misuse of firearms when shooting such a wild boar on private land.

    [As an aside, I also find it amusingly hypocritical that we are socially trained to care so much about the farmers’ livelihood, when they pollute our rivers and water sources with run-off, spray our air with pesticides, and invade our noses with poisonous ammonia from rotting heaps].

    For this reason, we are also campaigning with others around the country, for the government to enact legislation for firearms to kill wild boar – because at present there is none. I hope this clears up that matter anyway.

    I’m sure this response will only fuel more questions and debate, so please keep them coming in.

    All the best,

    Dave

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