Friday, 15 March 2013


It's been 9 years since a (still) unknown person released approximately 60 wild boar into the Forest of Dean in November 2004.

Over these years, both professional and amateur conservationists have speculated upon the potential problems that wild boar may create with regards a few species of animal and plant.

First was the worry about wild boar digging up bluebells here in the Forest of Dean, a location that shows off an amazing spectacle of these endangered plants each year in May.  But as always, it isn't just the experts that speculate, because as soon as a potential problem is mooted in the local press or on an equally ill-informed social networking forum, the public who do not like the boar are quick to condemn.

Friends of the Boar would like to assure its followers that we do not jump to any conclusions without first considering facts and published scientific evidence.  In the case of bluebells, what seemed a plausible concern, after 9 years of close observation, we can conclude that bluebells are not under any threat at all.  In fact recent research in 2011 by Defra confirmed that wild boar do not threaten the bluebells (Harmer, Straw and Williams, Royal Forestry Society Quarterly Journal of Forestry, July 2011).

And then we have had some concerns from Butterfly Conservation regarding wild boar digging up larval food plants of several species of butterfly, the most prominent of which are wood white and grizzled skipper.

But Friends of the Boar are not complacent in this research either, and we have spoken to a few branches of Butterfly Conservation that have both these butterfly species and wild boar on their reserves.  To date, it would seem that wild boar have had no detrimental influence on these butterfly species, but may in fact be enhancing the populations.  The Sussex branch of Butterfly Conservation have been in contact and they say that they have been holding both Wild Boar and Grizzled Skipper walks in a local woodland for some years now, and there has been no noticeable affect upon the butterflies.  Our local Gloucestershire group also say that although research is ongoing, to date no evidence is forthcoming on the detrimental impact of wild boar upon butterfly populations.

Sadly, here in the Forest of Dean we are now hearing from a new group of amateur reptile and amphibian recorders from GlosARG who are calling for a "management" (a.k.a. cull) of wild boar on the grounds that the boar destroy amphibian and reptile habitats, and more astonishingly, they claim that the eating of frogs, snakes and lizards by wild boar will endanger them!  Any good biologist would call this the food chain.

We have asked the founders of this local amphibian and reptile group for the evidence of how boar are detrimentally affecting herpetile numbers, but they have responded with simple quotes from "authorities" such as Wikipedia that boar eat frogs, etc. and adders need help!

Frogs breed prodigously and amourously because they are predated.
As a general rule, the more offspring an animal has is a response to the harshness of it's environment.

For snakes such as the declining adder, they are claiming it is prudent to cull boar in such a way that achieves some notion of "balance" within nature.  What and who decides this balance isn't proposed, but there is an assumption that the claimant is happy to play God in formulating such a "balance".

We feel that playing God by any individual is not the correct way forwards.

There is actually a scientific paper that addresses predation of American herpetiles by boars (D. B. Jolley 2010 et al., Journal of Mammalology, 91(2):pp519-524).   It studied the stomach content of feral American boar and showed that boar do indeed eat lots of frogs (spade frogs) with less than 10% of the boars' herpetile consumption being anoles (non-venomous tree snakes) and other herpetiles.  Anecdotal evidence suggest that boar sometimes "hunt" spade frogs emerging from winter burrows.  Maybe true?

But we are concerned with UK boars and how they inter-relate with other animals here in the UK.

Nevertheless, there is now another voice with an emotive and unscientific judgement call to cull the boar. They believe in pre-emptive strikes upon boars and attaining some mythical "balance" between species is called for, and they are promoting this vague viewpoint to the local press and other wildlife enthusiasts (all part of their publicity campaign).

Little do they seem to recognise that a multitude of other predators also eat frogs, reptiles and snakes, including some endangered raptors such as Goshawk.  Furthermore, the complications rise (with artificial management) when one considers that snakes eat frogs too, not to mention other endangered species such as water voles.

What is never highlighted in such predation studies (including even boar predation by wolves) is the obvious fact that stomach contents can be derived from scavenged animals too - the frogs were already dead when eaten!  No good scientist utilising "stomach" evidence of a predator or omnivore will ever claim it proves predation of living animals!  When did you last eat a live cow or live sheep - but your stomach may well have a lamb chop or steak digesting within!

Friends of the Boar have witnessed many times newts and frogs thriving in woodland puddles and even wild boar wallows!  Many amphibian species can walk many hundreds of metres in search of new habitat.

Below are photographs of such a boar wallow with frog spawn.

Frog spawn in a wild boar wallow, March 2013.
Wild Boar are engineers of biodiversity and ecological balance.

A wild boar had wallowed in this puddle in the last few hours, with some spawn splashed outside the wallow.  We observed that the boar had not eaten all the spawn, if any.  There was no other pond or water body for maybe 1 mile away. 

In conclusion, wild boar may very well eat newts, frogs or snakes but does that make those populations threatened?  Are they eating dead herpetiles in preference to live ones?   Evidence is required before any claim to cull the boars even if the self-styled Utopian vision is a "balance" for nature.  We need quantitative evidence that includes reptile populations pre- and post- boar arrivals and qualitative evidence that boar take significant live animals or adversely affect habitats.  We don't believe this evidence exists yet.

Perversely, however, the wild boar can be proven to create entirely new habitats (a pond or even just muddy ground) for some herpetile populations to thrive, in this case the common frogs' survival and dispersal. 

Can the boar also achieve some redress to any species population currently overpopulating an environment, given that boar and many other predators have been absent for hundreds of years? 

How difficult is it to propose that soil mootings of boar create dark patches of warm dark earth exposing invertebrate food sources for herpetiles and also help to warm snakes before a hunt?   Has anyone out there any evidence of this?

David J Slater

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