There are Wild Boar in The Forest of Dean. That may have been part of the reason why I came here. I know the boar.
About twelve years ago my then wife and I bought a small plot of woodland in East Sussex. We looked at lots of woodland and we chose that one because there were Wild Boar on the land. East Sussex has a thriving boar population.
So this post is about me and the Wild Boar.
My first encounter:
Not long after we had bought the wood we were down there having a look at our new property, it was a blistering hot summer day and I was loving it so much that I decided to stay there and sleep the night and so my wife went home without me.
I wasn’t prepared, I didn’t have any camping gear or anything like that, I just wanted to experience the night. I made myself a little nest in the leaf litter and lay down to sleep.
I woke up just after midnight. I could hear this pattering sound on the leaf litter and I thought it was rain and as I lay there on the floor I could hear it getting closer. Eventually I realised that it wasn’t rain, it was wild animals coming through the wood toward me. I lay as quiet as a mouse.
The boar surrounded me. I couldn’t see them but I could hear them just in front of me, on my left and on my right. It was fantastic lying there and listening to these big animals rustling about and grunting at each other and then something changed.
It was nothing to do with the boar, I have known them for a long time now and they have never, ever shown me any kind of aggression, it was just me. I could hear them down behind my feet and they were still in front of me. I was lying on the floor and I didn’t feel comfortable any more. I decided to get up and drive them away.
I stood up and shouted, “Hey, Hey!” and I was met with a cacophony of grunts and squeals from all around but that was all, they didn’t run. They just carried on with their foraging and ignored me.
My thought was, “Don’t make them mad”
My nerve cracked and I was scared. There were no suitable trees to climb but there was an old coppice stool. When a tree is coppiced enough times it grows into a ring of small trunks and I got inside this circle of trees. The only weapon I had to defend myself with was my camera and so I started firing off the flash to try and drive them away.
They didn’t bother about the crazy man. They just carried on about their business and slowly ambled past my camp and off into the distance and eventually my courage started to return and I began to think, “What a wonderful experience, I am all right, no bones broken and I haven’t been ate.” I did check the time, an hour had passed since I first heard them. I was wondering how long till dawn.
I didn’t know the boar at all back then, now I know that it was a sounder, composed of females and given the time of year, their almost full grown young. I wasn’t ever in any danger.
The next weekend I returned to the same spot and I built a platform in that coppice stool that I could sleep on. I desperately wanted to repeat that experience but I didn’t really want to be on the floor next time.
For the next nine years this was going to be my second home. I slept here most weekends, summer and winter. I fed the animals, that is to say that I baited my camp and the animals in the wood came to know this. I hung bird feeders in the trees. Squirrels were the ones that took most advantage and I became adopted by them.
When we first bought the wood encounters with boar were very rare. Over the next few years I became an expert boar tracker and encounters became much more frequent and my expertise just grew and grew. Then I realised that it wasn’t expertise at all, there were just a lot more boar.
When I say that I know the boar, I really do, I spent years with them and I can see a problem. They are big animals and they eat a lot and at some point that is going to have a detrimental effect on other species but I don’t believe that shooting guns at them is an effective means of control. That is because I know them.
So on with the stories.
I had a dog. I didn’t normally take him to the wood with me because wild life and dogs don’t mix well but every so often and especially if I was going to be away for more than one night, I would take him.
With Max along I couldn’t sleep up my tree, I had to take a tent so that I could confine him at night. That was for his own safety, a dog is no match for a boar, not even Max.
I had only taken bedding for one, I thought that he could sleep on the floor and on the first night we had a bit of a dispute about ownership of the bed. I found myself sitting outside of the tent in the middle of the night listening to him snore.
I stood up and lit a cigarette and I walked about a bit. Much as I loved seeing them this wasn’t a good night for an encounter so I was just letting them know that I was here.
I walked around a bit and cleared my throat, “Hey stupido boar, big man in the wood, go the other way.”
They didn’t pay me any attention, they just kept on coming. They came too close and I began to get concerned for the dog. I got into the tent, zipped the door up and took a good hold of his collar and then I turned on all the lights I had.
As soon as I put the lights on there were loud squeals and the boar ran. They had only just realised that I was there. So much for their super senses, sometimes they can be really dumb.
Max jumped up with a start, looked about, then lay back down and went back to sleep. Good Dog, nothing to worry about.
One night I was sleeping up my tree and I awoke. It was about two o’clock in the morning and it was a still and beautiful night.
I love being in the forest at night, it is so calm. I really think that it does something for your soul and I feel a great attachment to the forest, any forest.
I made myself a cigarette and smoked it and I just listened to the Tawny Owls and looked at the moon. I thought that I might go for a walk and see if there was anything about. My army boots were hanging in the tree beside me so I shuffled about getting them on, checked all my gear and then I jumped down out of my tree.
The moment my boots hit the ground the wood exploded. There were boar running everywhere. They were going from right to left and from left to right and squealing and kicking up all sorts of racket.
It took them quite a while to compose themselves and wander off and it took me a while to stop laughing.
I know what had happened. The boar were in my camp when I awoke. Not knowing where I was they froze. Animals will do that when they sense danger and just hope that it goes away. Boar can’t look up, they can’t lift their necks, it is just the way that they are built. As soon as I hit the floor they panicked and broke cover. They had stayed frozen for quite a long time while I got myself ready.
I have had so many encounters with boar. I have come face to face with large males in the middle of the day and I have often surprised and startled them accidentally. I have also had many night time encounters. I have seen them running through the wood and they are fast and graceful. I think of them as being more like deer than domestic pigs.
There is a wild life park in Kent with a celebrity Wild Boar called Boris. I went to see him once and felt really sorry for him. He did look more like a domestic pig than the wild animals that ran through my woods.
The present day:
I came to the Forest of Dean with my eyes wide open. I knew that there was a Badger cull and a Deer cull and I knew that they were culling the Boar.
In East Sussex nobody had minded the boar, people didn’t really see them and there was no fuss. Here everybody has an opinion and it divides communities. Local papers keep the topic alive and boar are in the paper almost every week.
Culling the boar isn’t an option in East Sussex because local people would have to fund it. In the last Badger cull they estimated that it had cost £4000 for each animal shot. In East Sussex if somebody were to knock on a door and ask for a few thousand pounds to help cull the boar they would be told, “They don’t really bother me, sorry.”
Here the Forestry Commission are paying and they want to cull the boar so it is an option.
It is an issue that causes great upset to some local people and I really understand and feel their hurt.
Last year the FC said that there were 535 boar in the forest and they wanted to kill 135 to bring them to a manageable number.
This year they want to kill a further 600. They are trying to kill all of them.
It is not all right. There is a lot of deception. The local paper recently printed a story saying that there should be no closed season because boar have four litters a year and there is no particular time of year when there should be a closed season. That isn’t true. It is possible to force intensively reared pigs to have four litters a year but you have to force feed them. Boar have one litter a year, I have watched them raise them many times.
I don’t think that there is anything that I can do about it. I am very sorry that so many animals are going to be killed but that is what the FC do, they are not conservationists or wild life managers they are foresters.
Anyway they are doing me a kind of favour. Shooting guns at the boar won’t work and they are dispersing the animals.
Boar are not like Badgers, tied to a sett, they run away from loud noises. The FC are just driving them out of the forest. I was recently warned to be careful going into the woods behind the farm because Boar have been seen there. I have seen boar tracks down by the Badger sett, they are all around us, I don’t need to go into the forest to see them.
The damage has already been done.
The real problem with the boar is not how quickly they multiply it is how good they are at evading people. By the time people realise that there may be wild boar around they are already well established.
The FC were the only people with the resources and the organisation to mount proper control of the boar and they should have been contained in the forest and managed with contraception. They have been driven out into areas where their numbers can not be managed.
Just like in my wood in East Sussex years ago, when I became “more expert” at seeing Wild Boar, local people are going to become much more expert at seeing Wild Boar
That is good, I like seeing wild animals but I think that in the future conservationists are going to realise that you can have too much of a good thing.
Then perhaps we can re-introduce Wolves. That will be great and it is the only thing that will work now.
I hope that they eat the Forestry Commission first.