Fears grow over wild boar disease ‘time bomb’

Wild boar© FLPA/REX/Shutterstock

The Forest of Dean’s wild boar population could rise to 10,000 animals in a few years, posing a disease risk to the UK pig industry, a trade association has warned.

The National Pig Association (NPA) is calling for more concerted effort to control wild boar, viewed by members of the local farming community as a “time bomb”.

A survey in March 2016 found numbers had grown by 50% between 2015 and 2016 with the estimated population currently at 1,562.

See also: Pig farmers call for wild boar cull

African swine fever

“These pigs are gaining access to waste food when they root around in household bins and at picnic sites.

“We need to be mindful that in Eastern Europe wild boar have been integral in the spread of the deadly African swine fever (ASF) virus,” said NPA chief executive Zoe Davies.

“If an exotic disease such as ASF got into the UK’s wild boar population, it would become almost impossible to prove that the disease had been stamped out.

If an exotic disease such as African swine fever got into the UK’s wild boar population, it would become almost impossible to prove that the disease had been stamped out Zoe Davies, National Pig Association chief executive 

“This would wreck our burgeoning export market, now worth £350m/year, with devastating consequences for the industry.”

The NPA has revealed it is joining forces with the Deer Initiative – a partnership group dedicated to ensuring a well-managed deer population – to host a wild boar summit in January, where the worsening situation will be discussed.

Forestry Commission

They are concerned a recent cull of more than 400 animals by the Forestry Commission appears to have had little impact.

As the owner of a significant proportion of the forest, they want the commission to step up efforts to control numbers.

“The wild boar population is expanding because the conditions – warm winters, plentiful food and no natural predators – are ideal.

“The Deer Initiative predicts the population could reach 10,000 by 2020 unless proper controls are put in place. That would not be in anybody’s interests,” said Dr Davies.

‘Time bomb’

John Childs, a pig farmer with 400 rare breed pigs on the edge of the forest, said while he had not seen any of the feral boar on his own ground he had heard there had been sightings nearby.

The fact that the animals were so close was a worrying biosecurity risk.

“Farmers are not allowed to feed household scraps but there are not even signs up in the forest warning people of the risks [if they drop food]. We are sat on a time bomb,” he said.

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