Wild boar in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley

The wild roaming boar are a permanent feature of the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley. In this piece we thought we’d set out the case on the issues surrounding this wonderful natural presence in our midst. We’ll leave this discussion, and the resources links at the end permanently and readily accessible for you so that, hopefully, you can form a balanced viewpoint and opinion. From time to time we’ll come back to the debate (as will everyone else) and refresh the issues and research. Let us know by all means if you have a strong opinion either way – we’d love to know. In fact we really believe that the proper solution lies only with people who have a genuine interest in the boar and particularly local people.

An objective look at wild boar in the Forest of Dean & Wye valley

Here at WyeDean Deli confidential we like to think that we take an objective view on all manner of food and drink related issues which of course, in the Forest & Wye Valley, includes the boar. There is never any shortage of opinions to this: the nagging question of the wild running boar and what to do about them. We like to think that our opinion is informed by science and research and therefore less likely to become polarized at either end of the scale by emotions alone – and we believe therefore much less likely to look like a Daily Mail leader.

An emotive issue for locals

Once emotions take hold and control the debate, things can get a little bit out of proportion very quickly, as we all know. Here, in the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley, both extremes of the argument are certainly well represented. In one camp, there is the prevailing view of leaving the boar completely undisturbed and to their own devices, whilst in the other, there is a tendency towards an “exterminate them all” philosophy.

Wild boar: a resource to be proud of?

At WyeDean Deli confidential we don’t believe that either of these two opposing extreme views can ever be right. Rather, there is a very large and pragmatic middle ground which envisages a healthy thriving boar population controlled by humane management. And, because we are passionate about high quality food, we see a solution that ensures, for the carnivores amongst us, that culled animals never go to waste or head quietly to landfill.

A cultural question?

If we were in Spain or Italy for example, we would not even be having this conversation. Instead we’d be discussing the Boar Festival we hold annually to celebrate the quality of our natural bounty and our fantastic natural wildlife resource. Or we could be chatting about the impending EU accreditation, within the framework provided by the EU Regulation No 1151/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 November 2012, on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs (we had to look it up) and similar (we had to look it up) to appellation schemes throughout the world, listing Forest of Dean boar as a protected product. We might be looking forward to welcoming wildlife tourism to our ever growing season of visitors who come to watch these fascinating animals, in the hope of spotting a sow and her piglets, and to be educated about the excellent management techniques we pioneer. We would have a thriving mix of visiting hunters (paying for the privilege and staying in local hotels and spending in local shops), controlled by a skilled and knowledgeable licensed local gamekeeper to ensure everyone’s safety. Or, and this is the real cultural differences between continental Europe and the UK on these animal issues, we would have an overwhelming sense of pride at being the custodians of this fantastic natural resource which live full and healthy lives in the wild.

Let's manage the boar as humanely as possible

This is a difficult sell, we’ll grant you, to vegans and vegetarians who don’t agree with eating meat in the first place. But the reality is that we are predominantly a nation of carnivores and have, by and large, already accepted our consumer responsibility to ensure that the animals we eat are kept in a way that offers them some prospect of a semi-natural life, and that ultimately, they were dispatched humanely.

The boar as food

Let’s talk for a while about the boar as food. They have roamed the woods and forest (and yes sometimes the odd unprotected front garden) at will. They have led a natural life. They have bred naturally and raised families of piglets in their own natural environment. They have feasted in the good years on all the best natural foods the forest has to offer and in the bad years they have suffered along with all the other wild animals. Some have lived and grown stronger to sire many offspring, whilst others have struggled and died a natural death. None of them have had their freedom to roam constrained by anything other than the natural environment. Remember that none have been fed a regimented diet designed simply to put on weight in the shortest possible time to maximize yield, and none of them have been force fed antibiotics, with related immunity and resistance issues, destined ultimately for our food chain.

Watching the wild boar

I’ve spent some time watching and studying the boar in the Forest, which can be done quite safely and extremely enjoyably by following a few simple tips, along with good old common sense. The first thing is that the boar are not interested in you at all - so watch them but don’t try to interact with them. They don’t see you as a food competitor or predator (they have no natural predators, which is part of the problem). For this reason, don’t offer them food or get in their way of feeding and do not take your dog with you. They hate dogs, which they do see as potential predators to the piglets, and will become aggressive. It may appear to you that the piglets are unruly and the sow doesn’t seem to care where they are or what they up to. Mistake. She knows exactly what’s happening and will not take kindly to you getting in between her and them. And lastly, this is a quiet nature watching activity so don’t make too much noise. The boar will be calmer, and so will you.

The great Forest of Dean boar debate

Eventually part of the debate comes around to the “damage” boar do. This can be turning over a roadside verge (boar forage with their strong snout and turn the sods of earth over to get at the food just below the surface). We’re not too sure how turning over the public forest floor constitutes damage and there is some evidence it actually helps the forest glades. Invading farm yards and crop fields in search of food though is a different matter, and if they do get at your pristine lawn, expect to have it rotovated! Many farmers can provide anecdotal evidence about crop damage and livestock disturbance, as well as increased costs to guard against the boar. Some of this, however, could simply be attributed to the increasing numbers and geographic spread of the species.

However, we do respect the boar for their intelligence. We’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen for some time our theory on boar potential, unchecked, for mayhem – which is that they are so bright that it won’t be long before they work out that tipping over your wheelie bin is a much quicker route to a hearty meal. And again, because they are so bright, we predict that shortly after that they’ll also work out your bin day and start to head off Biffa at the pass.

Do we need more scientific research on our boar population?

No studies conclude that an unchecked population beneficial for the community, or the health of the boar population. So, management is necessary, along with scientific research (however, we do accept that scientific advice can be “purchased” in some situations). Can we trust politicians to deal with this issue? It’s no secret that they can happily spin a story for a vote.

We have a question though on the policy guidelines that seem to view management as a matter primarily for landowners. One wonders how any sensible count of the cull numbers and progress can be coordinated. Even if there were an effective “voluntary reporting scheme” who would administer that? Who would set the overall cull numbers, and who would research the current extent of the population? Well, every policy seems to come with uncertainty.

A call for common sense

And so, at WyeDean Deli confidential, we passionately believe objective scientific and conservation research has to inform the case for controlling the boar numbers. If, like us, you hold that belief, then the next logical step is that after such advice, control must be humane and expertly conducted. At that point there is a carcass, and we will never be convinced that this carcass of prime quality, low fat, organic meat should ever be excluded from the local human food chain. We want to see an environment that deals with this seasonal windfall of quality produce and is proud to say that the boar, having lived a great natural life amongst us and now culled, will not go to waste. We want the community to welcome having the boar in our woods and forests and to be proud to tell others about the fantastic natural spectacle they offer ourselves and visitors alike. We want to celebrate our natural organic produce from the boar and, in turn, create internationally recognized and acclaimed products. There are some in the area already doing so, but there is a real sense, to us, that people are keeping their heads well and truly below the parapet, and are unwilling to be “implicated” in the debate. We are not doing that and we want this unexpected bounty to be something we are proud of, and something that ultimately gives something back to the local community. We want to be proud of a unique product that is part of our forest identity and who we people in the Wye Valley & Forest of Dean are.

If you want to research the wider issues for yourself – here are some helpful resources:

BASC British Association for Shooting and Conservation - http://basc.org.uk

Forestry Commission - http://www.forestry.gov.uk/

British Wild Boar - www.britishwildboar.org.uk

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust - http://www.gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.uk/

National Farmers Union - http://www.nfuonline.com/

RSPB - http://www.rspb.org.uk/

CPRE - http://www.cpre.org.uk/

www.natural england.org.uk: On 19 February 2008 Defra published its wild boar action plan, outlining the government’s responsibilities in the management of feral wild boar in England.