Tuesday, 27 March 2012


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.


Sunday, 4 March 2012


The main wild boar breeding season is underway and will probably last until April.  Contrary to popular myth, sows in the Forest of Dean rarely have more than 7 piglets, commonly six, and occasionally five each year. 

Despite this, we will often read in the anti-boar or hunting propaganda, that wild boar will breed twice a year or even three times a year, giving birth to as many as twelve piglets each time!

The truth is much less amazing.  They usually conceive in the winter months at the end of the year, followed by a gestation period of almost 4 months long.  This leads to a Springtime birth when food is becoming easier to find and the temperatures are not so cold to kill the piglets.

The only exception to this is first-time mothers.  They give birth in Autumn or late Summer.  This is presumably to reduce competition for food in the Spring when many more piglets are born to other sows, warmer weather, and maybe helps to avoid aggressive males in heat - who may kill her piglets (accidentally or by design).

Prestigious breeding figures often arise by mistakenly comparing wild boar to domestic pigs, who do have huge breeding success thanks to thousands of years of genetic tampering, hormone treatments, artificial insemination and taking piglets from mothers at an early age.

With very few exceptions in the UK, the wild boar gene pool appears little affected by contamination (cross-breeding) with domestic pigs.  However, low levels of genetic contamination has historically (thousands of years even!) been present in the wild boar stock due to breeding between captive wild boar and domestic pigs to select for better and leaner meat in the domestic herd, and also from accidental breeding between wild boar and domestic pigs.  The offspring of either matings have also escaped into the countryside.  Yet despite this, most domestic genes quickly disappear in domestic boar, presumably due to wild boar genes being dominant over most, if not all of the selectively introduced domestic traits.  To date, no domestic characteristic has been seen in the wild boar in the Forest of Dean, except by those with vivid imaginations!  DNA tests also conclude that the UK boars are no different than European boars, each having a small amount of domestic genes that may have derived from domestic stock many hundreds if not thousands of years ago.

It is this cloudy issue that leads Defra to steer clear of a decision as to the wild boars genetic purity and re-acceptance back into the indigenous fauna of Britain.  Furthermore, many farmers and pro-hunting lobbyists continue to feel it necessary to exaggerate sightings of wild boar x domestic pig hybrids to justify hunting the wild boar and keeping them on the list of things in the UK that is OK to hunt. 

The fact is that with very few exceptions, notably in Kent, any boars that looks like a pig IS a pig that most likely has escaped from a farm - and not a wild boar suddenly showing off any domestic inheritance!  See the British Wild Boar website for more details on this along with photos.

After a true (or near-true) wild boar gives birth, the piglets will stay with their mother for another 4 months, at least, and often for a whole year.  So unless something drastic occurs such as piglets being shot or suddenly dying off by disease or predation a typical sow will not give birth to more than 7 piglets in one year.

[Despite the usual suggestion of no predators, boars are killed by other boars, domestic and feral dogs, adders, big cats, many disease pathogens and parasites and hypothermia in freezing weather (it also promotes dehydration and starvation). This is before man has an influence.] 

It may sometimes appear that a sow has given birth to a multitude of piglets.  The truth behind such sightings is that after weaning, sows with piglets group together to form a sociable unit called a sounder.  Sows will often cross-suckle, as will sows that did not have piglets that year.  So, for example, 4 sows may group into a sounder of 24 piglets plus four adults.  If one or more adults die, it may appear that the remaining sows are prestigious breeders, but this is not so.

A sow with 7 piglets seen on 1st March 2012.  Appearances can be deceptive.
This is actually part of a 4 adult sounder with 22 piglets.  This sow had either 5 or 6 piglets.

It is often speculated that if wild boar are not controlled by hunting, their population will grow and grow.

This has two conclusions: either the boars compete with themselves for food, leading to starvation and suffering of the less able to forage or protect territory; Or the excess boars move out of the Forest onto adjacent farmland.  One gets reported as cruel (rather than natural selection!), the other unfair on farmers.

Limits to population growth are food and shelter, just as it is with humans.  For both species, hunting (or war) can reduce or limit populations in the short term, but there comes a point when population rebounds to recover back to the starting position, and commonly back to the future!  This is called population rebound or the compensatory rebound effect.  Humans call it baby booms, conservationists call it sustainability, hunters call it business or fun.

The well-publicised scaremongering that the human population is increasing is because the food supply of humans is still plentiful (if somewhat immorally distributed!!).  More food and easy supply means more humans can breed until the "natural" carrying capacity of their environment is met.  Furthermore, we now know that war does not solve over-population (if that is how you see human population and how to solve it!) but as just mentioned, may in fact make it increase!

So without war on the boars, the limits to growth are food and shelter.


Boars are not fussy eaters which has certainly helped them to survive.  Availability of food is cyclical and weather dependent, and as the seasons progress we see that the boar often change their diet.  This is a great survival strategy and one that has helped us humans too!

In this situation, population biologists often say that populations are "density-dependent" rathar than at the mercy of predator success.  It is therefore not valid to suggest that lack of predators is a reason why we need to shoot the boar!  Repeat - boar numbers are not controlled by predators in any "natural" system.

The density referred to is boars per unit area.  Studies of calorific content, foragability, etc for the woodlands here and abroad are not easy to evaluate for boars, so we can only be unhelpfully general on this, but density-dependence DOES seems well-established across Europe.

The statutory Forest of Dean is 15,000 acres, or 60 square kilometres (60km2), in area (figure quoted by the Deputy Surveyor in January 2012).

Quoting from several scientific studies across Europe, the highest densities of boar is 10 / km2 when artificial feeding supplements the natural diet.  North European latitudes such as Sweden have 0.1-2 / km2, south European latitudes such as Spain have 5-8 / km2, whereas mid-European latitudes such as Germany and France have densities of 3-4 boar / km2 (Melis et al, 2006; Spitz, 1986; Andrzejewski & Jezierski, 1978).

Using this data, the Forest of Dean may support 180-240 wild boar.  If there is artificial feeding, this number may rise dramatically to 600 boars.


Density-dependence also involves shelter from the cold.  Wild boar prefer to shelter in dense conifer forests.  Deciduous forest is the usual source of their food.  Obviously food and shelter co-operate in density-dependent populations, so if food was a constant, the population would be at the vagaries of shelter / climate.  This is seen in the latitude - boar density relationship given in the above research.  This relationship would suggest that food is indeed more or less constant across Europe, or at least less relevent to survival than is shelter.

Across Europe, coniferous woodland is the dominant cover, and even in the deciduous areas, ground cover is often thick.  This contrasts with the Forest of Dean and many UK woodlands where the deciduous understory is often thin and a poor insulator.  Furthermore, conifer stands are routinely felled in the UK creating disturbance for the boar and a constant pressure upon them to find shelter.

The Forest of Dean, along with the New Forest is one of the greatest areas in the UK for deciduous cover.  Approximately half of the tree cover here is deciduous.  This leaves proportionately far less shelter in the UK compared to European forests.  We cannot find data to give any relationship between shelter and boar density (please let us know if you do), but it seems very likely that the UK will have less shelter than a European forest at similar latitude (climate / temperature) and size to the Forest of Dean or indeed many UK woodlands.

Life skills and immunity must be accomplished very quickly for these new born piglets:
 photographed on 2nd March 2012.

So, without a war on the boar, the Forest of Dean would be safe haven for 180-240 wild boar at the most.

So how quickly would the population exceed this number thus forcing wild boar out of the Forest onto farmland in search of food?

This depends on the birth /death rate of wild boar.  Again, too few studies leave us in the dark, but a recent event does give some idea.  The family of 4 sows and 22 piglets in the photos shown here were very quickly reduced.  Within one week, piglets numbers went from 22 to 11, a 50% reduction within a few days of birth!

A sounder of Wild Boar with 4 sows (1 out of shot) and 11 piglets. 
One week earlier, the piglets numbered 22.

We have been promised by the Forestry Commission that they are not shooting the boars, and it seems unlikely that poachers will be operative in the area of this family.  So it seems reasonable to imply that the natural boar death rate is higher than is usually believed by many.

It is still too early to know how many boars will leave the forest this year in the absence of hunting, but we don't doubt that some will.  These boar will ultimately be shot and probably sold for meat.  Could this be fair compensation for crop damage?  Many countries believe so and operate this system.

But so far, the only evidence we have to date about boar moving out of the forest is some banded around poaching figures.  These are interesting, and will be the topic of our next posting, so stay tuned...