|Centre pages of The Wye Valley & Forest of Dean Review 26th February 2016|
Sunday, 27 March 2016
“Wild boar are on the rampage through Gloucestershire, so the Council has sent a team to Germany to see how they cope with the menace”. “Boar rampage through Coleford.” “Boar attacks man for the first time in 300 years!”
These are some of the headlines in the national and local press back in 2008-9. Nothing changes it seems. But a recent report paid for by the Forestry Commission concludes that headlines like these have been largely responsible for much of the fear in the minds of residents here in our forest.
“I’m scared to leave my house, a prisoner in my own home”, claimed one resident. And it is often the older residents who are scared because they are the least likely people to see a boar, and now they’re unwilling to go and enjoy Nature’s wonders on their doorstep. Such fear-mongering can cause real yet unnecessary distress.
Dutch scientists published a recent report on the public’s perception of wild boar and wolves – two species on their border and heading their way. Comparing the results with those from people who had seen boar and wolves, it was clear that fear of the boar and wolf dramatically lessened once seen; or “truth will out”.
The Forestry Commission’s recent report, “Social Aspects of Wild Boar”, authored by Dutton, Clayton and Evans at the University of Worcester (2015), differs from the Dutch study because more people have seen a wild boar here than the Dutch people.
Back in 2009-10 hardly a soul had seen a boar here, and the press was creating a false fear. Do you remember the Review’s front page image of Hogzilla, the American giant hog as big as a pony? And remember the worry that, “It’s only a matter of time before a child gets killed”, in the Forester? And then came the headline in 2010, “Warning after Wild Boar savages greyhound”.
Loaded language and fear was everywhere until it slowly got through, thanks to Friends of the Boar, that our boar are pure boar, puny compared to the hybridised hogs of America. People began to research that wild boar only attack people who are causing them harm or distress, and the same goes for dogs too, like the greyhound. Boar in Europe are the same as ours, including at times, a tameness.
We don’t hear about fear now. We have anger. Residents have been put through the mill by the press and the Forestry Commission, unfairly targeted to fear for our safety, then our dogs, and now we have to get angry at the mess and “out of control” breeding. We are not encouraged to repair the mess, or the battered fences (eg. The Dilke), nor put things into perspective.
So let me try. Maybe, one day, someone will actually get hurt, either hitting a boar in a speeding car, or getting knocked over by a boar. Are we so risk averse we wish to kill animals because of this? No. About 70 people a year are killed or seriously hurt by cows in the UK! 60 die from wasps & bees. 1 or 2 get an adder’s bite. But the most dangerous animal is the dog. Half of children get bitten by a dog, and injuries by dogs are the second most common childhood injury to be seen in A&E. Boar are safe to all good meaning people and dogs, but accidents may one day occur.
And the mess? Compared to the devastation left behind by the Forestry Commission’s loggers, boar diggings are nothing. Metre-deep ruts abound, waterlogged and hazardous to walkers. So much so a lady had to be rescued a couple of years ago after becoming stuck in the Forestry Commission’s mess! Rutted verges, with logs piled high (and dangerous), have become compacted deserts for plant life. Driving the roads you won’t see this. Take a walk!
The Forest of Dean is almost devoid of insects and butterflies, the things that plants need for pollination and birds need for food. The micro-organisms in the soil struggle with repeated compaction, unable to breathe the air.
How insincere and scientifically flawed were recent comments from Kevin Stannard about the boar threatening the butterflies. Butterflies require flowers on sunny forest rides - something his office destroys. And species like the small-pearl bordered fritillary requires young bracken, not the huge overgrowths we get thanks to his management.
The wild boar rotivate the forest floor and its sunny grass margins (tracks and roadsides). Uncompacting the terrible damage caused by the logging, they allow air into the soil as every good gardener and farmer knows. The boars are Nature’s ploughs. They’re seed-banks too, caught in the fur as they forage around the forest. They disperse as well as churn up deeply buried seeds giving the flora a chance.
The wild boar not only reverse the ecological disaster created by the Forestry operations, but they also reverse the damaging impact that free roaming sheep and deer cause. Sheep and deer are both introduced, non-native species to the Forest (unlike the boar that are native). They also cause compaction of the soil, but worst of all they nibble away at any soft shoots of grass and flowers that dare raise themselves through the sterile soil, all caused by man and his non-native stock of meat. Bracken and bramble are the few tough plants to survive this.
Contrast this to the boar. They dig the soil and crush the bracken, an invasive and carcinogenic plant that swamps out light and out-competes the more delicate flora. The bracken slowly regroups, allowing the small pearl-bordered fritillary a chance of survival in the shorter shoots, contrary to Mr. Stannard’s belief.
Friends of the Boar, and other wildlife fans have been trying to get this message across for years, about the ecological benefits of boar. George Monbiot, a journalist and ecologist, as well as Dr. George Peterken (also a local resident), a respected ecologist, both support the ecological necessity of the boar. Dr. Peterken, whose books you may find for sale in local bookshops, stresses the benefits to the flora. Mr. Monbiot is an outspoken critic of sheep in our woodlands and uplands, blaming the “white curse” on recent flooding events. Yes, sheep and deer strip the uplands and forests of vegetation, compacting the soil, and thus destroying the natural ability to store rain and slow down the runoff into rivers and towns. Monbiot argues for the return of boar.
I’ve visited many people in the Forest who are anti-boar. From people who have had their gardens damaged, to those angered over amenity spaces, such as in Ruardean and Joys Green. Not only have Friends of the Boar helped repair gardens of people in genuine need of help, I often put back overturned sods when out walking, pondering with some frustration why we can’t all do this! Freshly dug turf is so easy to kick back with a swish of the foot.
I even went on the local news to demonstrate this after the boar “rampaged” into my home town of Coleford one night, “devastating” an elderly man’s lawn. Except that it wasn’t a lawn but a roadside, and it was a small lone boar that calmly walked into town, shallowly digging an area no bigger than a kitchen. Ah, the press!
Each time I drive through Parkend in the winter and see, with some regularity, the roadside diggings. I pray that one-day some of the residents will just “push” the turves back into place, restoring their village and taking pride in its appearance. I find it therapeutic like a jigsaw puzzle. But in 5 years of hoping, I’m still waiting (apologies to anyone of has, please keep it up). And yes, the boar often return and dig it all up again. But keep on having pride in your village, the boar will leave after 2-3 days, and who knows, those grass verges may see red poppies and yellow hawkbit return, and then the butterflies and bees, as they have across many roadsides in the Forest.
A few people who hate the boar have physically threatened me. I don’t know why, but just because someone wants to see the boar here doesn’t mean they were responsible for their re-introduction! In fact, the re-introduction of the boar remains a mystery. The main theory is that a boar farmer in Abergavenny had had enough, and knowing the area around Staunton decided one night to dispatch a few in a large roadside lay-by.
Initial reports were of a dozen or so released in November of 2004. This number had expanded by 2006 to be 25-30, by which time the boar had spread deeper into the forest. No one but keen naturalists and forest rangers saw them. I remember seeing the photographs (of local naturalist Chris Ridler) of these boars at a local Wldlife Trust evening in 2005. But in 2006, the Commission’s wildlife ranger Neil Sollis was interviewed for a magazine, in which he stated, “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." He continues to say they are almost all juveniles.
So we now learnt that 2 groups of boar existed, each numbering about 30. The journalist (Angus Watson – Google it!) continues, "They cast a wary eye over us humans, then it’s snouts down to gobble the feed that Neil laid down earlier".
This is interesting, because not only do we have 2 boar sounders (?) joining forces in 2006, they were tame enough for the Forestry Commission to be able to feed them and watch them at close quarters. Film crews soon followed, literally paying homage to the Forestry Commission’s well-fed boar.
The origin of this other group of boar had remained largely a secret. They originated from Chase and Penyard hills near Ross-on-Wye, after escaping a local farm about 1999. They survived in this tiny patch of woodland for 5 years, un-noticed. In 2006 they had met up with the boar from Staunton, and despite a few encounters with tourists and a farmer’s high-seat at Symonds Yat, remained elusive until about 2007. In 2009, the Commission put the totals population at 90, a figure adopted by the Council. From 60 to 90 in 5 years! Who says boar are prolific breeders? Only when shot they are, which began in 2008!
It just so happens that between 1999 and March 2004, the thoughts of re-introducing boar into a UK Forest was developing, and DEFRA wanted to know how easy it would be to re-capture them if it turned out to be a disaster. They paid the Forestry Commission to manage a project at Chase and Penyard, where cages were laid to trap the boar. It was followed more intensively throughout 2004 in a separate project, resulting in 59 boar overall being trapped in cages; 31 in the first project and 28 in the second. The trapped boars were nearly all juveniles and seemingly use to being fed and baited by the Forestry Commission under Rob Guest.
In 2011, Kevin Stannard suddenly proclaimed in his management strategy plan (2011-2016) that 60 boar were released at Staunton. This has gone unquestioned ever since.
Also in 2011, Stannard was making noises to increase the viable population of boar from 90 (set in 2009) to 400. He was claiming about 800-1,000 boar existed in the Forest in 2011, based upon thermal imaging surveys in 2010 and 2011 (when 16 and 34 boar were seen respectively). This census and its methodology is legend as much as it is flawed. It continues and is called distance-sampling. I don’t wish to “boar” you with the dry details of why this method is just about the worst available, but do please visit www.friendsoftheboar.info for the details.
In short, the boar population that we read about is massively inflated. Our Forest simply cannot sustain even 400 boar let alone 1,000. Boars are limited by density of numbers, which really means limited by available food and most critically shelter – shelter we see continually disturbed and harvested for timber. Studies over decades conclusively show that densities of 3-4 boar per square kilometre are what is sustainable in the UK. That means, with our wooded area of 70-80 square kilometres, 200-350 boar will exist peacefully.
When piglets are born, almost always 6 to a litter, once a year only, the population suddenly inflates, albeit on tiny trotters, and density increases. Many die naturally, but as the survivors greet the summer warmth, the pressure for some boar to move out increases to recover the density to 3-4. The exodus occurs each Autumn-Winter.
Extra feeding, as done excessively by the Forestry Commission for 12 years, inflates this number leading to more boar “invading” farmland and villages. Also, the mismanagement of the cull can inflate numbers. When piglets are shot, a sow (maybe even unrelated to mum) will come into season immediately, thereby producing more piglets that year. Such mismanagement is akin to farming the boar. Piglets have always made up 75% of the cull each year, as detailed in the larder reports I’ve obtained. As piglets are shot, more are produced, making a mockery of the claim that cull totals somehow relate to population. They do not. Piglets make great barbeques, and the Forestry Commission sells these direct to the customer. Older boars are sold to a game dealer in Hereford.
These facts and others are never disclosed by the Commission. The lack of information, misinformation and even disinformation is a huge criticism of the Commission in its own recent study!
What I suggest is that the boar should be left alone in the forest so their density and social structure remain healthy. Mr. Stannard needs to balance his books another way. Each year the excess boar leave the forest, often using the same exit points. High seats should be set up by landowners who may charge hunters to use them. The hunters take the boar, making sure none are scared back into the forest. Profits from the meat sales should go into a social fund to compensate genuine victims of boar damage. All of this negates the need to accurately know the population and how many boar are being poached etc. The boars will limit themselves naturally to between 200 and 350, and as we all know in the summer months (when the population is at a maximum), often hide away unnoticed in the forest. That is, until the cull resumes in the Autumn.
Hunting in the forest is a disaster and lessons should be learnt from Germany – do not hunt boar in woodland! They come into town during the cull, all stressed, possibly agitated enough to attack dogs (often used to hunt boar both in Germany and here). A recent incident of a boar goring a dog at Lydney Park Hunting Estate is one such example of a boar becoming fearful of hunting dogs like Spaniels.
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.
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!
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-Württemberg 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 December 2015.|
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.