wildlife,  NATURE,  Environment,  PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOPS




Wild Boar

Wild Boar are native to the British Isles.  It's believed they were hunted to extinction in the Middle Ages.  In the 17th Century, some were brought from Europe and released for hunting with the same result as before - extinction.  For the last 20 years, thanks to escapes from farms and also illegal releases, we have had a growing population in Britian once more that look and act a lot like their wild ancestors.  They are now many generation on from domestication and are truly wild once again.  They do not have any sign of domestic characteristics such as pink skin or short noses.  This escaped stock it would seem were from true wild boar (Sus scrofa), a notoriously difficult animal to farm (hence the releases?).



Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater

Wild Boar Forest Crossing 01


Forest of Dean Wildlife


One of the oldest populations in the UK is in Kent and East Sussex, and although "estimated" at a few hundred strong they are hardly seen due to hunting having driven them to becoming stricly nocturnal, that or the population estimate is exaggerated.  In the Forest of Dean and nearby Ross-on-Wye, boar have roamed for a long time and even been a part of scientific study for the last 10 years.  They had gone largely "under the radar", until about 2008 when some of the boar began coming into villages.  They are now firmly part of the Forest of Dean wildlife.



Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater 

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Boris the Boar was a visitor attraction in the Forest of Dean before he was shot for being "dangerous".


Above we see a male affectionately called Boris.  Taken May 2009.  Boris was a joy to behold, a gentle creature who eventually learned that villagers had food, not just in binbags but in people's hands.  Other boar had lost the fear of humans too (see below), but only Boris was clever enough and brave enough to know how to manipulate us.  He was the talk of villagers who came to photograph him.  But one incident put Boris under scrutiny - he acidentally cut a mans finger one day, a man feeding Boris by hand.  Front page headlines read "Boar Attacks Man for First Time in 300 years".  It soon became apparent that Boris was being teased by stick-wielding children during his handout, and he accidentally cut the hand that was feeding him as he turned in surprise at his attackers.  No, it was more like "Man Attacks Boar for First Time in 300 years". We had the usual fanfare of bloodcurdling cries from the ill informed after this.  Boris was shot soon after this photo was taken.




Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater

Wild Boar 128 portrait


A young male like Boris, in 2012, gives me the eye from just 5 metres away, without a hint of aggression.



The killing of the boar had started some months previously.  A school in Ruardean (a village in the Forest of Dean) asked the FC to come and remove a boar that was happily mooching on apples in a corner of its large and open playing field.  The FC were quick on the scene and cornered the animal hoping to catch it.  No attempt was made, I have since found out, at simply scaring the animal away.  The boar quite rightly tried to defend itself against the brutality, and in their failure to catch it, they thought it ok to shoot it there and then in front of young children.  Little did we know that policy had already been secretly formed within the FC to kill any boar that came close to humans - as they later explained in the press.  What troubled me was that they were misusing the word "dangerous" instead of "close".  Here is a photo of the "aggressive" boar (see the aggressive spin in this link) in the "playground" just minutes before the FC arrived to make it aggressive. The propaganda had begun.  Today in 2011, the phrase "reducing the risk of adverse contact" is being used instead, which means exactly the same thing - shoot it.   My experience, alongside those of friends who have also been up close to the wild boar, tell a different story to that in the media (see link)




Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater

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A sow and her week old piglets in early 2008 make their way towards me.  She is scenting my dogs who are by my side during this photo.


By late 2009 things became gradually worse as the propaganda machine hit the media to sensationalise and ultimately spread fear of the boar.  Photos of American giant hogs were being pasted across front pages, tales of boar running at people and killing dogs abounded.  When I asked residents and visitors alike about the boar, most of those that had bad things to say about the boar had never actually seen one.  Those that had seen one were more level-headed in their reactions.




Wild Boar verge diggings in the Forest of Dean

Wild Boar damage 03


The roadside verges in 2011 are now lush and full of wild flowers for the first time in years due to the gardening expertise of the boar.


 The boar began making themselves more obvious by mootings of grass verges along roadsides, and some had found their way into private gardens within the Forest boundary. Here we see Chris Grady surveying early Wild Boar "damage"  in the Forest of Dean 2007, just as the boar started to make their presence felt. This was a rare scene in 2007, but by 2011 long stretches of road and picnic sites had been dug up.  Many locals accustomed to outdoor enjoyment were largely unconcerned as we had learned that the verges grew back within a year or less.  But we knew that too many people prefer a manicured edge to nature and the boar were about to hit the headlines again.  In early 2011, these roadside mootings were being used in the propaganda armoury of  the FC to calculate increasing and high boar numbers - and therefore an increased cull target - a totally unsound and unscientific method of census and boar management (a soft phrase for hunting).



Wild Boar with Dog in Forest of Dean by David J Slater

Wild Boar damage 61 with dog


My dog Sally meeting the gentle creatures of the Forest of Dean.


In 2009-2010, local newspapers ran repeated stories of dogs being attacked.  The FC responded quite rightly with some education about keeping dogs on leads where boar presence was obvious, but the issue only fuelled the fire to have the boar drastically culled.  Many began to lobby the FC to do something about it before a child got hurt (I've never seen a child run at a boar baring its teeth and making a loud noise!). The biggest dog attack story came in 2010 when a greyhound called Cara was killed by a boar during her walk in the woods.  It gained press sensationalism as you can imagine.  Unfortunate as this was, as I am a dog lover, I know this story to be propaganda because I was a witness to Cara and the Boar.  A FC ranger passed me one day asking me to keep an eye out for a lost greyhound called Cara. He said the owner was in tears in a car park about a mile away.  We chatted and he left.  Not long after I saw Cara disappearing into a thick conifer stand and began barking aggressively.  She barked for about 10 minutes on and off and I tried calling and waiting to see if she would come out.  I was about to go in after Cara when I heard her yelp loudly and the barking stop.  I decided not to enter the trees because I had my dogs with me too - I knew it was a boar.  Instead I rushed back to my car planning to phone the FC.  But I met a friend who had seen Cara return to her owner accompanied by the FC.  He told me the dog was alive and looked ok with only superficial wounds.  The next day Cara was dead after a trip to the vets.  What the complications were I don't know, but the dog attacked the boar - as usual.



Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater 

Wild Boar 38 sow and piglets


It is often quoted that boar are dangerous especially with young.  This is untrue.  They will defend if attacked or sense an attack.



Road accidents are now assumed to be a part of everyday life here in the Forest of Dean, yet only 1 scrape had been reported up to 2009, a period since 2004 when we are led to believe that boar numbers were rapidly increasing.  I have had wild boar run out on the road early in the morning, only to turn tail and rush back for cover. I've also seen them watch carefully from the roadside bracken, assessing when to cross with their families.  I definately think they have some road sense like the roaming sheep we have here do too.  However, it is interesting that the FC are quoting a sudden rise in car incidents with boar - 22 in the last year (mid 2010 - mid 2011).  This also coincides with a very rapid increase in roadside verge activity.  Something has changed, and quite dramatically.



Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater

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I have witnessed many boar crossing roads safely with some even doing the Green Cross Code.  In general they do not like roads.


The increase in road incidents is being used by the FC to support a theory of a very high population. But "our" natural asset is now scarcer and much more difficult to find.  It is a trend that has become more than obvious in the last year (mid 2010-mid 2011).  This is bad for wildlife tourism.  Congratualtions to anyone who sees them now.  Below is a piglet that seemed more independent than most and gave me a much needed opportunity of a photo.  She was part of a 15 strong piglet group with 3 sows in June 2010.




Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater

Wild Boar Piglet 02




Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater     Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater

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Mother sows are often relaxed in your company provided you stay calm. Photos taken 2008.



Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater

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The FC continually deny any suggestion of mis-management of the boar, and are absolutely adamant that numbers have been increasing year on year - in line with culling in order to keep a stable population (arbitarilly put at 90 after a District Council forum).  Yet they claim that hunting the boar has become very difficult in the last 2 years, with increased man hours to find them during culling (the same story we photographers are saying).  Indeed, it is known that rangers now shoot on sight any boar they see, as going out on a prearranged basis to kill is always unprofitable.  The cost of culling, they claim, is high and they now have several meat contracts to game dealers, including selling the carcasses to traders themselves, in order to offset the costs.  Of course, these are contracts that promise a tonnage per year, thereby increasing the pressure to kill.



Wild Boar cull data in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater


Freedom of Information Data from the Forestry Commission proving a crash in the population has led to increased breeding and a decreasing age.  Such inexperienced boar are more likely to play in the road, have less fear of people, and suffer from more diseases and epidemics.  More piglets and juveniles means more piglets and juveniles are going to die by the bullet.  The Forestry Commission cull policy is contrary to their aims by making matters such as these worse.


But all is not well.  I have obtained through freedom of information, the "larder" weights with dates of the FC Castlemain depot.

There is a lot of info here, but above is a graph showing a trend of decreasing average boar weight with time.  Two lines are shown, a simple linear one, and a polynomial (5th order) that best fits the data visually.  Assuming the cull is unbiased, it shows a decreasing average weight of the boar population, from 61kg in mid 2008, to 32kg (linear trend) in mid 2011.  Note also the increased rate of culling from mid 2010 onwards and the increased take of dependent piglets (weights below the 10kg line) and piglets under 40kg weight (humbugs with stripes at under 9 months old).


The culling of piglets and sows with dependent piglets is of huge concern.  Piglets will starve if their mothers are killed, or will die of cold.

I have met with the Deputy Surveyor and Head Ranger of the FC in the Forest of Dean, and it was no surprise to hear them deny that piglets or sows with young are being killed - it isn't FC policy.  Data below the 10kg line was "obviously" road kill or welfare kills, they claimed, without even studying the graph.  But they had no data to support their sweeping statement of course.  The data I have includes entire sounders being killed on several occasions, complete with dependent young.  And the number of days this happens has been increasing, from 1 day in the last half of 2008 to 7 days in the first half of 2011. Juvenile killing days are double this.  This is not welfare killing as the FC claim.


Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater

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Mature mothers are becoming rarer with poor management and overculling, but more food brings younger sows into season and more litters per year.

And yes, she has her eye on me, but is relaxed in my company. Taken in March 2009.


What this data shows is proof of a theory called "Compensatory Rebound".  This is known to occur in many game species, especially deer, but also foxes, seals and kangaroos.  When a population suddenly crashes, the theory claims that the sudden increased availability of nutrition is such that the survivors come into season earlier, and also have increased litter sizes and/or more litters per year.  The population becomes vastly skewed towards younger and younger animals. This of course is unhealthy wildlife management.  Good management holds the number of game close to the carrying capacity of the land to allow a healthy age distribution.


Now the increased rate of culling seen in the above graph is often cited by Forestry Commission rangers and the deputy surveyor as proof of increasing numbers of boar.  Yet the data is showing that the numbers culled are predominantly piglets (or humbugs).  This situation arises when there is compensatory rebound due to over-zealous hunting of the boar.  Killing piglets stimulates a sow to want to mate again, thereby producing more piglets for these misguided hunters to shoot.  In other words the Forestry Commission are farming the boar by shooting them without due care, and are certainly making the boar population here exist, albeit briefly (summer), at above natural numbers and breeding rates. 


This bad management, fuelled by greed for money and sick bloodlust, is clearly how Germany and other countries with swelling boar numbers have created their own problem with boar, many of which now come into towns to escape the hunters.  The hunters create the problem that they then want to solve - by increasing the hunting days / licences!  Crazy, pathetic, arrogant, idiotic, you name it...


If the above data is unbiased, it proves a population crash.  Large numbers of piglets are being born in Spring to compensate, only to be killed and their deaths celebrated as successful management by the local Forestry Ciommission stooges. This crash is what many wildlife observers, including photographers are claiming at present - the boar are now very hard to find. This is despite the FC claiming the population is at its highest ever - now at 300-350. The cull target goes ever higher! 


Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater

Wild Boar rescued piglet


Orphaned piglet found wandering alone after its mother was killed in the Forest of Dean. It hasn't learnt to fear dogs.  Fear of humans and fear of cars may also be learned from experienced mothers.  Rise in road deaths and verge "damage" may be due to poor management and overculling.  Was Boris an orphan?


But just maybe, the increasingly younger and younger population is also becoming less experienced?  We do see periods where there are lots of piglets about (before thay disappear again - by shooting?)  Is Compensatory Reboumd creating larger numbers of young and inexperienced boar who then get killed on roads whilst mooting verges, and also become less afraid of human contact?  Above is a rescued orphan piglet, a few months old.  It was found wandering alone after it mother had been shot.  It appears not to be scared of dogs, but rather the dog is scared of it!



Have the boar all turned nocturnal then?  The FC attempted a night census of boar in 2010 using sophisticated military Thermal Imaging (TI) cameras.  They use TI to estimate deer populations.  The FC unwittingly told me they could not find enough boar to allow a statistical model to work and that is why they continue to guess at boar numbers.  When questioned they sheepishly guessed at 20-30 boar could only be found during the census (in other words, one sounder or maybe 3 or 4 smaller families).  But on cross examination, the deer census using TI works even though the population of deer is only double that of the boar (officially speaking).  Something is clearly wrong regards the official population of boar.  There are also enthusiasts who use night vision binoculars at night these days to find boar, but they too tell me they cannot easily find them.


Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater

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Such small piglets need regular feeds and the warmth of mum to survive.  Many piglets are born in the winter. Photo taken March 2008.


The conclusion of this data is twofold - both disturbing.


1.  The FC are killing piglets and sows with dependent young, allowing piglets that escape the killing to die a cruel and slow death.

2. It has been the subject of many scientific studies that over-killing and Compensatory Rebound vastly increases the likelihood of disease epidemics.

(Choisy & Rohani, Proc Royal Society 2006, B22 V273 p273. Swift et al, EcoHealth 2007. Jerozolimska & Peres, Biol Conservation 111 p415. Miller-Guilland & Bennett, Trends Ecol and Evolution 18, p351. Karesh et al, 2007, Journal of Wildlife Diseases 43 (3) p55).

Read the Example Here


It is traumatic to these intelligent mammals I am sure, which leads to high stress and eventually to disease (Dis-Ease).  But overhunting also takes out the bigger animals more quickly.  These animals have developed immunity to some diseases and also are carriers of viruses - the carriers help to spread natural immunity through the herd by sub-clinical infection.  Over-hunting takes away this immunity leaving more "susceptibles" to disease, and at the same time with the increased density of piglets, helps to transmit disease more rapidly.  These diseases include Swine Flu, Tb, and Swine fever.




Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater 

Wild Boar 51  sow and piglets


Take a look at the piglets now and try and imagine what is in the minds of those who kill such creatures?



Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater 

Wild Boar 40 sow and piglets




Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater

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A day old piglet learns about mum's scent.  It still has its umbilical cord attached. March 2008.


As the population becomes skewed to younger and younger animals, as bigger animals become scarcer, and as contracts for meat must be honoured, it is an unenviable position the FC have backed themselves into.  The killing of piglets and young juveniles may now be required to satisfy a fabricated and totally unscientific cull target.



Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater

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Here is a sow that had 8 piglets in March 2011.  My friends Andy Rouse and Rob Ward both photographed her and her piglets.

Sometime around the 1st April, the sow was shot and the piglets left to die.  It was in a remote area far from a road and access had to be via a padlocked gate that only the FC, official contractors and a a few households can open.  It may have been "poachers" but they would have to take the body of the sow away in a vehicle - she probably weighed about 100kg - and also have a key to the security gates.  They also needed detailed knowledge of the forest to find the sow.  It is of further interest that one of Andy's remote camera traps was also stolen from the site - if anyone knows the whereabouts of this cmera and especially the images on it, could they please drop me an email and I will make sure Andy gets it back.

Here is Andy Rouse's (click link) story of the incident.



Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater

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"For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other.  Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love."  

Pythagoras c550BC

The Forest of Dean certainly feels these days like a private game park for the Forestry Commission.  I do not think poaching is a serious issue within the core of the forest (too few boar!), but maybe outside it is.  Wild Boar have a dynamic and always changing population. Their movements are little understood, as are poaching figures and even organised shoots of the boar on private land.  All this popualtion data is unknown.


It is pathetic in the age of science and high technology that the FC can be so confident with a total guess of a population census, from which they create a rigid cull target.  It is amazing they do not see the threat of disease (well they do now!).  They desperately need to ascertain the true population of the Wild Boar immediately.  They desperately need to introduce a Closed Season to help prevent disease epidemics and the suffering of piglets and mothers.


They have agreed to a census survey using Night Scopes this September (2011). This is very welcomed and I can't wait to see the result (but read about this technique).  We need to stop thinking the population mustbe constant too - it is dynamic and seasonal and hence a strong argument for a closed season.  In the meantime, they must stop the killing right now before there is a disease problem or a total extinction!



Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater

Wild Boar piglet enjoying the safety of the 2012 closed season.





The census results turned out to support my predictions.  The number of boar seen over several long nights using thermal imaging cameras was so low (approximately 16 counted) that the FC didn't even bother finishing the survey across the entire Forest.  So low was the number that they had another attempt in early 2012 with much the same result.


After some meeting between the FC, myself and the Forest of Dean Council, the FC eventually agreed to halt all culling until September 2012.  In the meantime, the Council must come up with a population number that they feel will be tolerated by the local people.  Currently this stands at 90.  In April 2012, the Forestry Commission began to propose a number of 400.  This is currently being considered by the Council.


I personally feel this is too high, a number that would give a density of boar at approximately 5 per km2, or slightly above the average across Europe.


As of May 2012, the population of wild boar has now blossomed to something more acceptable.  Estimates vary between 200 and 400, but with several sounders continuously moving about, and therefore difficult to know if we are counting the same boar twice.  The natural death rate of piglets is also higher than previously assumed (about 40-50%), so the true number that will go on to live through the summer will probably be at the lower end of this estimate.  And then the cull will start...



Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater

Wild Boar piglets enjoy the sunshine of early 2012


For more information on the current status of boar here in the Forest of Dean, please go to the Friends of the Boar blogspot (link below), a website set up by a few boar activists including myself.  Here you will see how population densities vary across Europe, what controls density, what the thoughts on poaching is, and anything else that comes along.





 Could I still urge people to keep sightings of wild boar to themselves.  Do not submit sightings to the authorities as I now know they use the information to slaughter rather than help the boar to free and useful lives.    Please don't help to turn the Forest of Dean into a game park.   Time will tell if they are a problem, and so far they are definitely not a problem in the slightest.



Hours Old Piglets and Watchful Mother in the Forest of Dean copyright david J Slater

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A sow watches me exhausted with her hours old piglets. One piglet takes its first peek at the outside world.  Taken with a wide angle lens in 2008.



Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright David J Slater 


A recent photo (2011) sees a sow at the farrowing nest licking her freshly born piglets.  I am just a few metres away.



Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean copyright David J Slater

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Be careful Boris, humans can be ferocious !




Friends of the Boar logo

FRIENDS OF THE BOAR WEBSITE - keep up to date with Forest of Dean boar


British Wild Boar Orgnisation

British Wild Boar: A good website with lots of info.



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