Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean

Wild Boar in the Forest of Dean

Updated 22nd February 2024

About wild boar

Wild boar are stocky, powerful animals covered in bristly hair that can vary from dark brown almost black in colour to gingery brown. Mature males have tusks that protrude from the mouth. Females also have tusks, but these do not protrude.

Piglets are a lighter ginger-brown, with stripes on their coat for camouflage and are affectionally known as ‘humbugs’. Wild boar can stand up to 80cm at the shoulder and they normally weigh between 60–100kg.

How can you spot signs of them?

Large areas of uprooted and disturbed soil are a common tell-tale sign of wild boar presence. With powerful neck muscles and a long snout which allow the animals to plough through the ground in search of food, they can turn over a large area in a very short space of time. 

Here are some other tell-tale indicators that wild boar are near or have recently been in the area:  

  • footprints: wild boar footprints are wider at the front with two dew claws at the back. Their prints appear more rounded than deer.
  • wallows : wild boar will wallow in mud to control their temperature and rid their hair of parasites. Look for smooth hollows in wet ground. After wallowing, wild boar will rub themselves up against things so keep an eye out for muddy tree bases too.

Behaviour of feral wild boar

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 should always be treated with caution and respect.

Wild boar have relatively poor eyesight but a keen sense of smell. They are more likely to sense or hear the movement of people or dogs moving towards them rather than seeing them, and will react by moving towards the noise to see who or what is approaching. This can be interpreted as aggressive behaviour.

What do they eat?

Boar will eat pretty much anything; they are omnivores and enjoy a wide variety of food.

During late spring and through summer, they prefer to settle into dense woodland cover to raise their litters and their diet changes to consist mainly of vegetable matter.

From early autumn they move out of the Forest in search of a different food source. Their rooting of the grassland areas is triggered by the softening of the ground and a large amount of insect activity in the soil, with the boar foraging for the larvae of insects such as leatherjackets (daddy-long legs) and cockchafers (may bugs). This foraging is very seasonal and they frequently re-visit sites that have provided a good food source in the past.

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. 

When is the breeding season?

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 family group will then become stationary for a week or more.

Average litter sizes in the Forest of Dean are between six and ten piglets, which is nearly twice that of their continental cousins. 

Advice to walkers

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, 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 re-join the group out of sight. 

The defending sow may, however, be provoked into a mock charge if they feel threatened. This may happen if walkers have continued towards the sow, either to get a better look or simply because they have not noticed the animal. 

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

Unfortunately, dogs have been attacked, seriously injured and sadly killed by wild boar in the Forest of Dean. Whilst this is rare, dog owners walking in the Forest of Dean should keep their dog under close control and within sight, and ideally always on a lead.  This is especially important if your dog is unlikely to respond to your commands in the woodland environment.

When boar are seen, we recommend that you call your dog to heel and put it on a lead. Give the animal space and if needed turn and find a different path – or stand still until the boar have moved off.

Feeding boar - risk of disease spread

Feeding the wild boar risks spreading disease. There is currently a risk of a disease called African swine fever (ASF) reaching the UK. ASF is fatal to domestic pigs and wild boar but it does not affect people.

ASF is present in several European countries and is spreading in other parts of the world.

The most likely way ASF could infect pigs or wild boar in the UK is if they eat pork or wild boar meat products from infected animals.

This could happen if a member of the public brought produce back from affected countries and allowed it to be eaten by pigs or wild boar on their return to the UK.

ASF can also be spread on contaminated clothing, footwear and vehicles.

Introduction of ASF into UK pigs or wild boar would be devastating for their health and for the country’s pig industry.

What you can do to help keep ASF out of the UK?

Never feed wild boar or pigs.

Ensure you dispose of any food products in a secure bin.

More information on ASF can be found on www.gov.uk/guidance/african-swine-fever.

Dead or injured animals

If you discover an injured or dead boar or deer in the Forest setting you can report it by contacting us on 0300 067 4800 (Monday – Friday 9.00am – 3.00pm) or emailing westengland@forestryengland.uk

If the animal is found injured out of office hours you can call the Police on 101 who will be able to arrange for a humane dispatcher to attend.

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