4 ways we can learn to live with wild boar
How wild boar populated Britain and how we can share UK woodland with them.
Boar in Britain: The facts
Farming wild boar became popular in the 1980s, soon leading to accidental escapes and deliberate releases.
A 2014 Natural England study found that during the 20 years after 1989 there was an average of one or two incidents a year, with some involving single boar and others up to 50 individuals.
Boar were seen as far afield as Cornwall and Yorkshire, but most populations died out, leaving boar hotspots in the Forest of Dean and three other regions.
Devon/Somerset Boar were freed from farms several times between 2005 and 2007. Many were later recaptured, shot or killed on roads, leaving one or perhaps two viable breeding populations in north-west Devon and south Somerset. Numbers are uncertain, however.
West Dorset A few boar appear to have escaped from a farm in the winter of 1994–95, founding a small population estimated at roughly 30 animals in 2014. Culling seems to be controlling their spread.
Kent/East Sussex The Weald area is home to Britain’s oldest population of released boar, dating from the late 1980s. Most live on private land so encounters with the public are rare; culling keeps numbers to about 200.
4 ways we can learn to live with boar
1 Better fencing
We could follow the South African example, where fences separate wildlife from land used for cattle, and upgrade more fencing around amenity areas, fields and gardens. Boar-proof fences have high-tensile steel mesh and are buried at least 30cm deep, with an electric ‘snout wire’ near the ground. This fencing is expensive, but grants could be made available.
2 Boar-meat fund
Demand for boar meat is growing – which is why boar farming took off in the first place. David Slater of Friends of the Boar suggests that meat sales from culling could go towards a publicly administered fund, which would distribute grants to local communities. “At the moment, much boar meat is poached and sold on the black market, which benefits only the poachers,” Slater says.
3 Garden angels
Another of David Slater’s suggestions is that teams of volunteers could be on call to put right any unavoidable damage caused by rooting boar: “The idea is to ease the distress caused if a boar turns over someone’s garden.”
4 Contraception for boar
Ian Harvey of the Forestry Commission says finding an oral contraceptive for boar is his “holy grail”. Catching boar to administer doses would be tricky, but boar-specific bait dispensers suitable for oral contraceptives have already been trialled in the USA.
Ben Hoare is a wildlife writer and editor, and proud to be an all-round ‘nature nerd’. He was features editor at BBC Wildlife magazine from 2008 to 2018, and after that its editorial consultant. Ben writes about seasonal natural-history highlights in every issue of the magazine, and also contributes longer conservation stories. His latest children’s book is 'Wild City', published in October 2020.