'Boar War': the For­est of Dean pix­ies fight­ing against the cull of wild pigs

The Guardian Australia - - Environment - Steven Mor­ris

Drew Prat­ten ad­mits it can be a lit­tle un­nerv­ing to sud­denly come upon a wild boar in the for­est.

“They are very big. When they growl at you it’s pri­mal. You get the sort of feel­ing deep in your stom­ach that you get when you hear a lion roar. But these an­i­mals don’t want to hurt any­one. If you slowly back away they are fine. We should all be liv­ing peace­fully to­gether.”

Prat­ten, a 49-year-old mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant, is one of a band of ded­i­cated an­i­mal rights ac­tivists in Glouces­ter­shire pit­ting it­self against marks­men and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in what is be­ing dubbed the “Boar War”.

The Forestry Com­mis­sion has set up gun tow­ers from which marks­men cull the pow­er­ful pigs that roam the an­cient wood­land be­tween the river Sev­ern and the Welsh moun­tains.

A 30-strong group call­ing them­selves the For­est of Dean Wild Boar Cull Sabo­teurs is de­ter­mined to stop them. The “pix­ies”, as the ac­tivists term them­selves, have been ac­cused of tac­tics rang­ing from knock­ing over gun tow­ers to smear­ing ex­cre­ment over gate locks (they deny the sec­ond al­le­ga­tion).

A Glouces­ter­shire po­lice in­spec­tor said the ac­tivists were wast­ing tax­pay­ers’ money while lo­cal politi­cians are call­ing for both sides of the boar dis­pute to come to­gether to find a peace­ful so­lu­tion.

Prat­ten, 49, who acts a spokesper­son for the sabo­teurs, met the Guardian at the Speech House, a 17th cen­tury for­mer hunt­ing lodge at the cen­tre of the For­est of Dean.

He pointed out the signs of the

crea­tures’ pres­ence: the turned earth where they had for­aged for in­sects and roots; the flat­tened bracken where they had slept.

“The boar should be seen as a mas­sive as­set to this place. It’s the one thing these days that the For­est of Dean is known for but at the mo­ment they are be­ing de­monised.”

Prat­ten smiled when asked if he is a pixie and replied: “I have taken part in di­rect ac­tion.” Deny­ing any mem­ber of his group had smeared ex­cre­ment, he said: “It’s child­ish, it doesn’t help. If you want to dis­able a lock there are bet­ter ways of do­ing that.”

In pre­vi­ous years the Forestry Com­mis­sion built wooden tow­ers from which to shoot from. “The wooden tow­ers were knocked over in the wind or by pix­ies. Some were dis­man­tled,” Prat­ten said.

This year the com­mis­sion set up me­tal ones to re­duce main­te­nance costs and van­dal­ism. Crit­ics say they look like the sort of struc­ture that you might come across in a pri­son of war camp.

“You’d need an an­gle grinder to tackle one of those,” said Prat­ten. “And no­body’s got an ex­ten­sion lead that long.” But there are softer ways of dis­rupt­ing the cull. “They put bait out, you take the bait you put it some­where else. Sim­ple. We’re say­ing don’t eat it over here, eat it over there.”

Boar be­came ex­tinct in Eng­land 300 years ago. The orig­i­nal modern Dean pop­u­la­tion es­tab­lished af­ter an es­cape from a wild boar farm in the 1990s and an il­le­gal re­lease in 2004.

Av­er­age lit­ter sizes in the Dean are be­tween six and 10 piglets, nearly twice that of their cousins on the con­ti­nent. They have no nat­u­ral preda­tors – ex­cept man – and the re­cent mild win­ters have helped pop­u­la­tions soar.

The For­est Com­mis­sion, the gov­ern­ment depart­ment that man­ages more than 7,000 hectares (17,300 acres) of land in the area, de­fines the boar as feral.

It says the most ob­vi­ous sign of the boar is the dam­age caused to grass verges, parks, sports pitches and church-yards but it re­ports there have been in­ci­dents of peo­ple be­ing chased by boar and dogs be­ing killed.

The com­mis­sion says there are also “wider so­cial im­pacts” of boar, such as older and more vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple be­ing afraid to go out at dusk or at night for fear of meet­ing one of the an­i­mals.

In ad­di­tion, it points out that the num­ber of road traf­fic ac­ci­dents in­volv­ing boar over­took those in­volv­ing deer in 2013.

The com­mis­sion put the boar pop­u­la­tion in 2016-17 at 1,562, though some ac­tivists be­lieve this fig­ure is in­flated. It has set a “tar­get” pop­u­la­tion at 400. Dur­ing the 2016-17 cull, 492 an­i­mals were killed – a num­ber that also in­cludes those killed in road ac­ci­dents.

While some of the ac­tivists be­lieve con­tra­cep­tion could be a way of managing the pop­u­la­tion, the com­mis­sion has au­tho­rised shoot­ing.

Res­i­dents in the town of Cin­der­ford on the fringe of the for­est are split. Butcher Cameron Swaine sells boar sausages, burg­ers and steaks (though bought from pri­vate lo­cal landown­ers rather than the Forestry Com­mis­sion, whose meat is sent out of Glouces­ter­shire). “I un­der­stand peo­ple get upset when their gar­den is ru­ined by boar but for me they are part of the for­est,” he said.

Mar­ion Jayne, land­lady of the Fern Ticket pub, said she felt sorry for the “poor lit­tle pig­gies”. “When I drive home late at night you see foxes, rab­bits, deer and boar. If peo­ple don’t like them they shouldn’t live in the for­est.” Bar worker Cor­rie Thomas, 22, had a close en­counter with a boar in his car re­cently: “It clipped me – or I clipped it. Luck­ily it was a small one.”

Dog lover Jeff , who did not want to give his sur­name, said the an­i­mals made life in the for­est more dif­fi­cult: “You have to be very care­ful where you walk, they can be dan­ger­ous. I have to keep the dogs on a lead.”

Coun­cil­lor Tim Gwilliam, the leader of the For­est of Dean coun­cil, said he be­lieved the boar – if prop­erly man­aged – could boost the lo­cal econ­omy by at­tract­ing more vis­i­tors. He called on cen­tral gov­ern­ment to take a grip of the sit­u­a­tion. “I bet if they were trot­ting around Par­lia­ment Square they’d be sorted,” he said.

Wild boar in the For­est of Dean: the Forestry Com­mis­sion has set up gun tow­ers Pho­to­graph: Alamy

Drew Prat­ten, of For­est of Dean Wild Boar Cull Sabo­teurs, in the For­est of Dean. Pho­to­graph: Sam Frost/the Guardian

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.