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Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean

Updated 6th March 2019

About Wild Boar

Wild boar were once common in England, but were hunted to extinction at least 300-years ago.  In recent years small populations of feral wild boar have become established again in the wild as a result of both accidental and deliberate releases from wild boar farms.

The Forest of Dean boar population is the largest in England, and is continuing to grow.  The original population established in woodlands near Ross-on-Wye after escaping from a wild boar farm in the area during the 1990s.  In 2004 a group of around 60 farm reared animals were dumped in an illegal release near the village of Staunton on the western edge of the Forest, above the Wye Valley.  By 2009 it was clear that the two populations had merged and a breeding population was thriving.

Further discussion of legislation relating to feral wild boar can be found on the Deer Initiative’s best practice guide ‘Wild Boar Legislation’

Behaviour of Feral Wild Boar

Are feral wild boar dangerous?  This is one of the most frequently asked questions in the Forest of Dean, and a hard one to answer.  Feral wild boar grow to be very large strong animals, and can move surprisingly fast for their size.  They will also readily move to defend their young when they feel threatened, so they should be treated with caution and respect.

Wild boar have relatively poor eyesight, but a keen sense of smell.  The animals are thus more likely to sense or hear movement of people or dogs moving towards them – and react by moving towards the intruders to see who or what is approaching.  This can be interpreted as aggressive behaviour.

When a family group (known as a sounder) is disturbed by walkers, the tendency is for one of the larger sows to move and position themselves between the walkers and the young piglets (or hoglets), often with much snorting.  The other sows in the group will then lead the piglets to safety in deeper vegetation.  Once the family have moved off, the defending sow will usually suddenly turn and go to rejoin the group out of sight.  The defending sow may, however, be provoked into a mock charge at the intruding walkers.  This may happen if the walkers have continued towards the sow, either to get a better look or simply because they have not noticed the animal. 

Whilst there have been reports of people being chased by the boar, it remains unclear as to whether these are mock charges or a more deliberate attempt by the boar to move people out of a particular area, possibly to protect a sow that is just about to, or has just given birth.  The sows can give birth at any time of the year, although there is a peak of births in the spring and early summer.  Around birthing or farrowing times the sows will search out a suitable ‘farrowing nest’  in thick cover, and close to reliable food sources.  The usually mobile sounder group will then become ‘stationary’ for a week or more, and that can be associated with higher levels of stress, which can manifest itself in greater levels of aggression and extreme rooting damage.

Male boar tend to be seen alone, and can grow to a significant size.  The older male boar are less likely to run or move away from people, often simply standing and watching as you pass by. 

Advice to Dog Walkers

Dogs have been attacked, seriously injured and killed by feral wild boar in the Forest of Dean.  The circumstance of each attack varies, and there does not seem to be any common threads in the reports received.  The presumption is that dogs have been attacked when they have got too close to the boar and / or their young.  However, there have also been dogs attacked when their owners are adamant that they were either on a lead or close at heel.

We strongly advise that dog owners walking in the Forest of Dean keep their dog under control and within sight.  If you know your dog is unlikely to respond to your commands in the woodland environment, then please keep your dog on a lead.

When boar are seen, we recommend that you call your dog to heel and put it on a lead.  If the boar are in front of you, we recommend that you turn and retreat and find a different path – or stand still until the boar have moved off.

Please do not feed the boar

The Forest of Dean is ideal habitat for feral wild boar and there is no shortage of natural food for them, they do not need to be fed.  Feeding the boar in the villages, at picnic areas or around camping and caravanning sites encourages the animals to return regularly to seek out food and become nuisances to other people.  Please do not feed the boar!

See here for more background, population and management of wild boar.