Thursday, 21 January 2016

FORESTRY COMMISSION FOUND GUILTY OF SPREADING DISINFORMATION ABOUT WILD BOAR IN THE FOREST OF DEAN - IN A REPORT FUNDED BY THE FORESTRY COMMISSION!



The results of an unpublished survey, commissioned by the Forestry Commission themselves, has been released on the social aspects of wild boar in the Forest of Dean.

The authors of the Commission's survey, Dutton, Clayton and Evans represent the Institute of Science and the Environment , University of Worcester.

The report does not say anything about the author's credentials, but we do know that Clayton, whilst undertaking her PhD at Worcester, was employed by the Forestry Commission at Bank House for a number of years.

Therefore, before considering this report, we must recognise that it is biased, having been undertaken and paid for by the Forestry Commission and it's employees.

You can download the report at this link:  Social Aspects of Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean 2015

The report is ostensibly about the results of a social survey allowing residents of the Forest of Dean to answer questions and give their opinions and experiences of what it is like to live alongside wild boar.

Given that the authors failed to challenge or clarify the opinions given, both negative and positive results should be taken with a pinch of salt.  People lie!  People get things wrong!

We shall return later to these opinions, but lets start with the history given in the report to check on the accuracy of what IS known.

HOW MANY BOAR RELEASED?

The first chapter (5 pages) covers the background to the boar in the Forest of Dean.  It correctly states that wild boar have been roaming at Chase and Penyard Hills since 1999 (about 1 mile from the Forest of Dean).  It then makes some interesting comments, that although in themselves are unsurprising, it is what is omitted that highlights a few secrets the Commission do not want you to know.


Page 2.  Chapter 1, section 3:

"Further animals were illegally dumped at Staunton in November 2004 (Figure 1.1). This was reported as 40 animals by Defra (2008) but actually involved 60 individuals.

Initially these two populations were made up of relatively tame animals; there are numerous tales of people hand feeding the boar. It has been reported anecdotally that on at least one occasion the boar were rounded-up with an opportunity for their capture."

The authors are very sure that the number of boar released was not 40 but 60!  No proof given.

The story of how many boar were released near Staunton in November 2004 seems to have morphed over the years.  Very early press reports put the figure at 10-12 boar.  This soon became raised to 25-30 boar (Wilson, Wildl. Biol. Pract., 2014 March 10(3): 1-6), but in the Forestry Commission's own Management Plan of 2011, this inexplicably (and without evidence) became 60 boar.

How do the Forestry Commission know it was 60????????  Maybe it was they whom released the boar?

Let's ask a wildlife ranger, Neil Sollis, who in 2006 was interviewed by freelance journalist Angus Watson.
 
In this article, Neil Sollis talks of the two groups of boar, "We’ve no idea where the two groups of boar in Dean, about 60 all told, are from, although we do know that they’re pure wild boar."

So, 60 boar were NOT released at Staunton after all.  This is the estimate in 2006 for all the boar from both groups.

So how many escaped from the boar farm at Ross-on-Wye?  We are finding it difficult to find this out, but someone must know - the farmer probably?  Any other clues?  OH YES.

The strange comment above, in our Dutton report that anecdotally, people were feeding and  trying to capture the boar initially, is tremendously insightful to us.

Friends of the Boar have known for many years that two large projects were undertaken on the Ross-on-Wye Boar between 1999 and May 2005.



The study from 1999 - March 2004 included feeding and trapping of boar in Kent, Dorset and Ross-on-Wye.  The 1st May 2004 - 30th April 2005 study consisted of feeding and trapping boar in only Ross-on-Wye.  The Forestry Commission at Bank House in Coleford were employed to undertake this trapping experiment.

In the article cited above, written about Neil Sollis in 2006, we read about the 60 boar, "They cast a wary eye over us humans, then it’s snouts down to gobble the feed that Neil laid down earlier". 

And now you will discover that the 2 Defra projects used HUGE amounts of maize to trap the boar over 5 years!

So NO, it is not anecdotal that people were feeding these early introductions of boar - DEFRA and The Forestry Commission were feeding them copious volumes of food!!!!!

Which, incidentally, they still do.  It is not the public feeding the boar but the Forestry Commission's hunters!

And what of the trapped boar, how many, and what were the ages of the trappees?

Of the earlier study, "In total 31 wild boar (18 males and 13 females) were trapped and tagged, a further 13 animals (some probably recaptures) were trapped and released without fitting tags. Of the 31 animals which were anaesthetised, all appeared to be in good condition and 27 (87%) of the animals were juveniles (6-12 months old). The other 13% (n = 4) were three older females and one male in his second year (Figure 2). The largest trapped animal was 92kg compared to a range of 40-52 kg for the 27 juvenile animals. No fully adult males were trapped".

Of the later study at Ross-on-Wye, "Over the entire study, a total of 28 captures were achieved, composed of 20 individuals and 8 recaptures. The overall trapping rate was 7.3 trap-nights per capture. During Summer 2004 and Spring 2005, 40% and 58% of the estimated minimum population were captured respectively.  Trapping preferentially captured young animals in the population. In Summer, juveniles represented 100% of the captured population but only 75% of the estimated minimum population. In Spring, juveniles comprised 86% of captured animals but only 67-73% of the estimated minimum population". 

Anyone good at maths?   31 + 28 = 59.   Mostly juveniles!  And guess the age range of the boar seen around Staunton JUST AS THESE PROJECTS WERE FOLDING UP around November 2004?  Yep, Juveniles.

Please send this information to your favourite newspaper!

The report has yet another deception in its early Chapter too.

Page 4: "Frantz et al. (2012) found that boar from the Forest of Dean differed genetically from both continental wild individuals and domestic pigs, indicating that this population had a mixed wild boar/domestic pig ancestry".

Although Frantz et al (co-author Massey works for Central Science Labs, part of the Forestry Commission quango) does indeed find domestic pig ancestry in 20 sampled wild boar from the Forest, he also shows how every single boar across Europe also carries the same ancestry!

The paper highlights that although the Forest of Dean boar have some unique markers that set themselves apart from boar on the continent, the differences are insignificant and far removed from the genetics of domestic pigs.  The Forest of Dean boar, as concluded by ranger Neil Sollis and other experts, are as pure a wild boar as those across Europe are.

The rest of the information in the report, therefore, CANNOT BE TRUSTED simply because the authors can't even get the historical facts correct, and they use purposefully misleading language.

But this is what you would expect of a report funded by the Forestry Commission about wild boar.

We get unproven comments about costs of hunting from personal communications between Clayton and Stannard - presumably over their lunch break cuppa.  Similarly, we get inaccurate costs of boar damage, including high costs to repair fences that were not even damaged by boar.

The authors note that many of the respondents say they know about boar, only to contradict themselves elsewhere in the questionnaire.

Respondents claiming boar attacks are obviously mistaken over what a boar attack is.  A boar can easily outrun a human.  If a boar runs at you to attack, it will get you!   So no.  Most "attacks" are of inquisitive boar trotting towards a dog or human for a closer look.  Most people misinterpret this as an charge!  Some attacks are mock attacks, but these are minor incidents, usually when piglets are near mothers.

This is not helped by Dutton et al quoting a spurious report of  Mayer, J.J. (2013). Wild pig attacks on humans. Proceedings of the 15th Wildlife Damage Conference: 17-35.

In this report, Mayer claims 665 attacks have been made by wild boar on humans across the world.  But Mayer defines attack as a "perceived threat" y the human, or as a "close encounter".  Mayer gives no examples of any human actually being attacked in what would be the colloquial meaning of the word!

Using Mayer is to scare the reader into believing wild boar actually attack people, when in fact they do not.  This is clear propaganda and scaremongering by the Forestry Commission who paid for this report.

But remarkably, given the biased nature of the report, what we discover in it's conclusion is a heavy criticism of the Forestry Commission.

The local press is also, quite accurately, held responsible for lying and fear mongering and sensationalising the boar, much to the detriment of some local residents who live in fear thanks to the rubbish that some journalists concoct and the loaded language they like to use (rampage, beast, savage, hairy, tusked, invade..)

Here is the summary:


9.0 Summary Comments
 
There are, without doubt, significant impacts on the residents of the Forest of Dean by the presence and activity of wild boar. However, the significance of these varies widely, and can be both negative and positive.


Perhaps the main issue identified by this project is the lack of satisfaction with the provision of information on wild boar. This is highlighted by the results of the questionnaire but also came across strongly when the project team spoke to residents, business proprietors, etc. There was extreme dissatisfaction with the Forestry Commission and District Council with what was felt to be poor and/or a lack of communication that exacerbates the frustration experienced by the negative impacts of boar. It is also unclear to many why the District Council abdicates any responsibility for providing information and the management of boar and passes all enquiries, etc., to the Forestry Commission. This reflects the situation recorded in the Netherlands.


Dissatisfaction is increased with what is perceived as misinformation and disinformation. Much of this maybe more as a result of what is seen as a lack of provision of information. However, incidents such as the misrepresentation of the minimum numbers calculated by thermal imaging as actual numbers is unhelpful.


Local media, especially the local newspapers, are also culpable in perpetuating some of the issues, such as anxiety and fear, with sensationalistic reports that frequently contradict one another. Mayer (2013) also reported that the media were quick to highlight the attacks and the threat of attacks; the English media were mentioned in particular to be sensationalistic. Clayton & Dutton (in prep) reviewed media articles in 2010 and found both national and local media were sensationalistic, with few reports being neutral in nature.


Greater awareness and more accurate, clear and detailed information on the risks and benefits would be invaluable in managing the expectations, fears and issues of residents. Better information and education on adapting behaviour, expectations of individual responsibility, etc., would allow many to overcome any concerns regarding the presence of boar.


It is not the remit of this report to comment on the management of wild boar in the Forest of Dean. However, the lessons from Baden-W├╝rttemberg and other European countries would indicate that tough decisions are required to ensure the boar within the area do not become more of an issue to resident communities (and visitors). In particular in respect to negative boar-people incidents, boar-vehicle collisions, impacts on amenity areas, etc., although other negative impacts should not be discarded as unimportant.

A sustainable (in financial/resource terms) population management strategy that is acceptable to residents and external stakeholders and communicated would seem to be an essential requirement for the management of boar and the expectations of resident communities. However, as can be seen from the crude calculations from data provided by the Forestry Commission, currently the financial costs of wild boar management seriously outweigh any economic benefits.






Friday, 18 December 2015

BBC WILDLIFE MAGAZINE on the Forest of Dean Boar

BBC Wildlife December 2015.

A really good article on the forest's wild boar has appeared in BBC Wildlife magazine this month.

Ben Hoare, the author, interviewed Friends of the Boar at length in November and we are delighted to see quite a lot of our information got through to print.

It was refreshing to see some positive boar facts in the media for a change, such as the University of Worcester's recent survey revealing that a "huge majority of respondents feel boar are beneficial."

Sadly we see more deceit from Ian Harvey at the Forestry Commission, and also from Robin Gill at Forestry research.

They insinuate the boar can breed all year round because of the forest's "plentiful food and mild climate."  This is wrong because because boar do not breed year round (unless mismanaged), and the food supply dwindles in the winter - hence the need for them to root the roadsides.

Another untruth of Ian Harvey is that wild boar have 6-10 piglets, "since they are hybrids between wild boar and farmed pigs".  Total nonsense, and he knows it.

This they know to be untrue and are purposefully deceiving the public.

No wild boar in the Forest of dean has been seen to have more than 7 piglets in 11 years.  DNA tests have shown that all boar, all across Europe and Asia have "farmed boar" genes in them, but these genes are recessive.  The boar are not feral anymore and act and look like true wild boar despite the tiny element of domestic genes (that all the boar across Europe also have).

What Ian Harvey tries to base this pseudo-fact on is a post-mortem finding in a sow a few years back that had 12+ corpus luteum or "yellow bodies".   This is the structure that bore the egg in the ovary and was left empty after fertilisation. These can equate to embryos.  But again, Harvey quotes from domestic pigs for they have a greater correlation between corpus luteum and piglet number.   But 12+ corpus luteum in wild boar does not mean that 12 piglets were to be born  The sow produced 12+ eggs, of which 50% were likely to become embryos.

We also note a councillor claims the boar in Ruardean primary School in 2008 HAD to be shot, when actually it did not.  We have covered this previously, with a photo of said boar happily munching on windfall apples in a corner of the school field doing no harm to anyone.  The children, as the councillor rightly states, were sad and shocked to see an innocent animal shot before their very eyes!

So as per usual, people with propaganda to spread and an ill-will towards wild animals get a say in opinion pieces, but we hope you will do your own study and find the truth.

We are glad, however, to see conclusive reporting that wild boar are actually good for bluebells. 

We are also glad to read of 4 ways we can learn to live with the boar (better fencing, meat-fund, garden-angels/turf teams, contraception).

Actually, contraception may work but not the way the Forestry Commission wish using the dangerous non-species specific contraception administered via a feeding device.

We have been approached by a company who are willing to do this on the wild boar.  We hope to bring further news on this in the near future.

Please get a copy and read the rest yourself.  It is definitely worth a read. 

Thursday, 17 December 2015

COUNTRYFILE APPEARANCE



BBC Countryfile  aired a programme on 13th December 2015 that covered some of the issues of wild boar in the Forest of Dean.  Friends of the Boar were consulted on the topic and David Slater agreed to try and help find some boar for them to film and to appear on the programme too.



Tom and David Slater find teeth gashes of wild boar in conifer trees.

We had 3 days to find some boar, and that proved to be quite tough.  Surveying the entire Forest it had become very clear that boar numbers were now terrifically low, perhaps less than 70 left.  Boar rootings were massively reduced compared to more recent years, as were all other signs.  It reminded us of 2008-9 in terms of rootings, when the population was put at around 60-90 animals.

Dave had discovered an area that held about 3 boar, so we concentrated on that area when the pre-filming team arrived.  Signs were good and wallows had been used, and the crew waited from 3pm until dark to hopefully see them.  It wasn't to be.

David leads Tom through ideal wild boar habitat.

But we believed it was just bad luck, and on the day of filming when Tom Heap arrived,  Dave took them back to the area.  New signs were there, but again they left without a look at a boar.  Finding boar can never be certain and the crew left saddened, as they were all looking really forward to catching sight of one - for personal reasons as much as professional.

Tom and David discuss the wild boar during filming.

We all had a nice day anyway and the chat about boar to the crew was stimulating and they were all interested as well as sympathetic to our side of the story.

Dave talked to them off camera about the population figures being propagandised by the Forestry Commission as outrageous, biased and scientifically flawed.  They agreed that it was very strange that a population of over 1,000 boar meant that 10-12 boar existed per square kilometre, yet after many kilometres walking and searching we saw nothing.  

They saw nothing at The Rising Sun pub - a site the anti-boar locals claim boar visit every night.  They saw none on their drives around the roads, and when locals were asked for any any recent sightings they all said none.

On camera, Dave explained the hunting myth about predators and compensatory rebound effect - how numbers rebound back to normal, and often more, after rapid and unscientific culls.

He explained that the 360 boar killed this year were part of the ongoing compensatory process and cannot be a reflection of the total boar population.  This wasn't aired.

Also, Dave suggested that 75% of the cull were humbug coated piglets.  The Forestry Commission always attempt to dupe the public with cull numbers, preferring to give an impression that all boar killed are large adults as well as living all at the same time.  No.  Piglets are targeted ever more due to their ease of selling the meat to BBQs (the FC sells piglets direct to the public).

Dave predicted a glut of piglets early in the new year to the crew because numbers were now so low that increased shelter and nutrition left available for survivors meant that piglet mortality would be drastically reduced.  This wasn't a topic they wished to film.

Dave explained how the Forest of Dean couldn't support more than 400 boar, making the Forestry Commission estimate a joke.  He compared density of boar to Europe, which at similar latitude and tree cover holds constant at 3-4 boar per square kilometre (in ideal habitat).  This was not aired.

Dave explained his strategy that overcomes mismanagement and lack of knowledge on numbers.  Allow a core area to be a sanctuary for the wild boar, culling only the boar that leave the Forest each year using high chairs and marksmen on the Forest periphery.  

Excess boar surviving the births in Spring increase the density of boar.  By Autumn this excess will leave due to overcrowding.  These boar are the ones surplus to The Forest, and if left alone will damage farmland as they spread outwards from the core sanctuary.  This was partly aired.

One other thaing that wasn't aired and purposefully ignored was the terrific amount of forest damage by tree felling vehicles.  The Forest looks quite ugly right now.  We are seeing the worst ground and tree damage by the Forestry Commission for years, and that is saying something!

What was aired, in fact, was a piece that had already been determined to agree with impossibly high numbers of boar, of the many signs we saw (we didn't see much!), of the 1-2 dogs per year that had been hurt because the dogs were harassing the boar, and of the local hospital repairing its dilapidated fencing.  

This was The Dilke hospital, whose grounds had been rooted about a month before.  Boar had found the fence of the Dilke to be broken by a fallen tree - something the BBC crew had seen for themselves but didn't film it.  The boar helped themselves in of course, lured by bird feeders and fresh grass.  The Dilke, after 10 years of knowing about boar habits, didn't seem to care the fence had been broken.  Lesson learnt we hope.

About to set up a trail camera - not enough wild boar left to find on demand these days!


 As night encroached on the day of filming (you can see this in the final footage and the photo above), we decided to use a trail camera to catch a boar.  Dave took the camera back to the original site and was delighted to find that the boar prints he had shown the crew were that of a large and solitary male boar.  In fact, the footage was taken at about 3pm - the time we had first assumed the crew would have the best chance of a sighting!

All in all a good day but we are a little sad that a lot of truth about population and mismanagement was ignored from the show.  But they are the BBC after all (with a parliament to keep happy over license fees), and The Forestry Commission is a beloved quango of government.