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Interviewer
Well, Martin, we’re right by one of the busy roads that runs straight through the Forest of Dean, and on a cycle path as well, and look at this!

Martin Goulding
This is a lovely example of rooting.  It’s bare earth, a friable seed bed.  It’s about the size of a child’s swimming pool and very, very fresh.  Look, there are thistles, there are nettles, everything’s been scattered away and you’ve got the lovely soil here and it’s not even dry, so we really are in a boar area here.

Interviewer
So how long ago was this made?

Martin Goulding
This is only last night.  And you can understand now how seeds can germinate that previously never could before.

Interviewer
What’s amazing is they’ve just turned back huge swathes of earth, like a duvet back from a bed, isn’t it?

Martin Goulding
Absolutely, peeled back, fresh as a daisy.

Interviewer
The other thing is of course this is on a public cycle path, so they're not worried about the fact that people have been along here, and also it’s right next to a really busy main road, and that must cause conflicts.

Martin Goulding
Oh yes, road traffic hazards with wild boar, there have been several.  Fortunately there’s been no fatalities of drivers that we’re aware of, but if we look on the continent, very sadly it is probably only a matter of time.  And you can see, if we look through, we can see where an animal has made a track through these thistles and through the grass, and actually we can follow that and see what we see, if you fancy.

Interviewer
Right, let’s go and have a look.  It’s quite exciting being on the trial of a wild boar like this, even if you don’t actually see the animal, just knowing that an animal like this is at large in our woodlands, isn’t it?

Martin Goulding
This is tremendously exciting.  Do you want to go first or shall I?

(Interviewer laughs)

Interviewer
Wetter part of the wood, this, Martin.

Martin Goulding
Yeah.  Well this has got wild boar written all over it, yeah.  That’s a wallow and we've got prints and you can tell that, big prints, you can tell that’s a wild boar print because the back two toes are wider than the front two toes.  Look at the mud splashed up the bank there, and…

Interviewer
Yeah, and there’s a trail.

Martin Goulding
Yes, oak tree, and look at that, on the side of it there, just about a foot up, a great big splodge of mud where the boar’s rubbed up against a tree.

Interviewer
Ah, so that’s proof that wild boar have been here very, very recently.

Martin Goulding
Yeah, lovely, unmistakable sign.  An important ecology point here is that wild boar carry seeds on their coat.  They would have wallowed; some of the seeds would have dropped off here.  They'd have dropped more seeds off when they’ve rubbed against that oak.  So, you know, they're dispersing seeds.  And the ephemeral pools created from the wallowing, that’s good for the aquatic insects, so wild boar, ‘keystone woodland species’.

Interviewer
Have you any idea how fast they're increasing and how many boar there are?

Martin Goulding
Nobody knows how many boar there are.  The prodigious breeders once out will breed once a year typically four to six young, so you can do the maths and see.  They have no natural predators, numbers are only going to go up, but they are a favoured animal to be shot at, to be hunted, and that is keeping numbers down, or it might just be reducing the spread.  Nobody really knows.  There is a danger that too much shooting may eradicate the animals.  So the animal is being managed without any idea of population numbers, which isn’t that good really.

Interviewer
Just recap the history of wild boar in Britain, because they were exterminated by us by hunters, weren’t they?

Martin Goulding
Yes, they're a former native species and they died out probably about 800 years ago through overhunting and habitat loss.  And the last few animals probably outbred with the domestic pigs that were being increasingly panished through the woods at the time.  But there were several reintroductions in the 17th and 16th century, but they didn’t get a hold.  So there is some confusion over the dates, but typically 800 years ago no wild boar in the country, until 20 years ago.

Interviewer
And what happened?

Martin Goulding
Well that’s when people started having holidays on the continent.  They were going to France, Germany, sampling different cuisines, different meats, and they were sampling wild boar.  And when they came home, some entrepreneurial farmers thought well let’s start farming wild boar, sell the meat to a niche market, top price.  So they brought animals from the continent as the original farm stock, and it is those animals that have escaped. 

Interviewer
So these, are they real wild boar or are they wild boar interbred with domestic pigs?

Martin Goulding
They look very much like real wild boar.  The DNA evidence isn’t conclusive and it isn’t on any animal on the continent either.  There is no you can get it off the shelf reference sample of a pure wild boar, because of historical outbreeding with domestic pigs, for example.  But if you go on what they look like, how they act, the ecological niche they fill, they are in all intents and purposes wild boar.

Interviewer
Where are the centres of population for wild boar now in Britain?

Martin Goulding
Well the Forest of Dean, where we are, has the largest population now I would have thought.  It is very difficult to know where they are and in what numbers, but if you're looking at field signs, the Forest of Dean has a good population, there’s a good population in Kent and East Sussex, and now in Dorset and in Kent.  There are several populations in several counties now.

Interviewer
I see, and do we know how fast they're increasing?

Martin Goulding
They are spreading from county to county quite rapidly, and I say quite rapidly because twenty years ago there were no wild boar, now half the counties in the country have reliable reported sightings.  We’re also getting populations in Wales and in Scotland.  So it’s not just an English thing, it is now a national thing.

Interviewer
Not everybody wants to conserve wild boar.  Some people might want to see them back; some people might like them because they're tasty; other people might see them as dangerous aliens at loose in the British countryside.  It seems they polarise opinions, don’t they?

Martin Goulding
Oh, very much so!  Wild boar cut across such a wide spectrum of issues.  So for example the farmers are not necessarily keen on them because of all the agricultural damage they do.  The sporting fraternity think it’s great because they’ve now got a sporting beast on their doorstep.  The veterinary profession are not so keen because wild boar will carry transmittable diseases.  Ecologists are delighted because wild boar are very good for woodland ecology.  Wild boar will root up the earth, it exposes bare soil, dormant seeds can germinate, annual plants can get a foothold, and with these plants come are associated insects and birds so on up the food chain.  But I've heard people say – and it’s hard to dispute – a woodland without wild boar is a woodland in decline.

Interviewer
Well a few years ago there was a consultation, wasn’t there, on what we should do with our wild boar, how we should treat them, how we should monitor numbers.  What were the results of that consultation?

Martin Goulding
The results were that DEFRA brought out a Wild Boar Action Plan, and the important point of the plan was that the landowner is responsible for the wild boar.  So if you’ve got wild boar on your land, it is up to you to manage the animals if you so want.  So you can leave them alone, do nothing, or feel free to shoot them, whatever.  The interesting bit is if the wild boar are coming off your land, going onto somebody else’s, what happens then, but that’s one for the courts to decide.

Interviewer
And what are people doing in practice, how are people managing their boar?

Martin Goulding
Well the sporting fraternity are enjoying shooting the animals on the agricultural land, and the farmers are glad of that in some cases, because it prevents their crops being destroyed.  Although obviously not all farmers, some like to see them.  Otherwise, the likes of the Forestry Commission, where we are now, they have a management policy in place where they are trying to reduce the numbers down to what they perceive to be an acceptable level.

Interviewer
So given that there’s lots of attitudes to wild boars, how on earth do we reconcile all those attitudes within the British Isles?

Martin Goulding
It’s very difficult, you will not please everybody.  I am a great believer in increasing awareness of the wild boar.  So if you're walking in the woods, as we are now, and you come across a wild boar, you know how to behave.  But if we’re going to live with these animals again, we will need a bit of a culture difference.  You can't let your dog romp off its lead now like you used to in areas with the wild boar, because they will potentially be conflict between the wild boar and the dog.  You don’t want to go throwing sandwiches to the wild boar or they will become urbanised and used to people.  So we do need a bit of behaviour change if we’re going to live with these animals. 

Interviewer
But the fact that people are queuing up at a car park to go and see wild boar, the fact that people want to get a glimpse of what they see as a fragment of the wild wood if you like, means that somehow in us there’s this desire for something a little bit dangerous, a little bit wary in the woods.

Martin Goulding
Very much so, and if a wild boar came out now it would be like stepping back in time, wouldn’t it, in the middle of nowhere in this gorgeous wood, then to see an animal with such a strong association with heraldry and, you know, days of yore.

Interviewer
Hunting and days of yore, that’s right.

Martin Goulding
Yeah, it would be absolutely fascinating.

Interviewer
And now in Sweden we've seen that the population has risen very, very fast; something like 48% a year I think the figures are.  Can you see that sort of population rise taking place in this country?

Martin Goulding
Yes, easily, where the habitat is suitable for them, like in the Forest of Dean or any other forest.  And we mustn’t get too hung up on associating boar with a forest environment, because they're happy in a mosaic of habitats, of agricultural land, and we've got a lovely stream in front of us here so the riparian environments, agricultural deciduous woodland, coniferous woodland, boar are at home in all these environments.

Interviewer
So they have the potential to recolonise most of Britain if we let them.

Martin Goulding
They do, yes.

Interviewer
How do we decide how many wild boar should be allowed to live in a particular wood or a particular area?

Martin Goulding
Well I mean the wild boar are perfectly good at deciding that for themselves, and if you look at this woodland you’ve got chestnuts that are raining down around us as we walk, there’s beech.  There’s all sorts of food here, there could be hundreds and hundreds of wild boar in here, so this wood will have a certain carrying capacity that the food supply will sustain a wild boar, but there will probably be too many wild boar, so people then talk about a cultural carrying capacity.

Interviewer
What does that mean?

Martin Goulding
What is an acceptable number for the people who live and visit the area?  So it’s what people perceive to be the correct number of wild boar.  If you see a wild boar crossing the road every single day, where they're a road traffic hazard, you would think there is too many wild boar here for a cultural carrying capacity.

Interviewer
Or too many cars.

Martin Goulding
Or too many cars, yes, which has precedence? - yes.  The potential for the comfort to click between wild boar and people is increasing all the time.

Interviewer
Are they really a danger?  I mean there is a potential for conflict, you said, but actually would they actually harm anybody?

Martin Goulding
A wild boar will run away from you virtually every time.  But, with all animals, whether they're wild, tame or domestic, there is an element of unpredictability, and you mustn’t forget that with wild boar either.  So if I was walking through a woodland and came across a wild boar, I would treat it as I would a stray large dog; I would go around it, I would avoid confrontation.

Interviewer
And do they come up to people?

Martin Goulding
Well that’s the trouble in the Forest of Dean because they are beginning to come up to people because people are feeding them.  They are getting a bit too used to people for their own good.  And I say for their own good, because that’s bringing them into areas where there’s a lot more road traffic, where people are feeding them there’s a chance somebody may get bitten, and they're not behaving as a wild boar would behave, they're behaving as an animal that’s becoming urbanised is behaving.

10’51”

Creative commons image Credit: Wild boar / Marieke IJsendoorn-Kuijpers / CC BY 2.0 Wild boar