Species background and ecology
Wild boar (Sus scrofa) were once native to Great Britain but have been extinct for some 300 years and, following escapes or deliberate releases from wild boar farms or animal collections, they have now established breeding populations in the wild. The main colonies are in Kent/East Sussex, Dorset/Devon and the Forest of Dean, with regular reports of further releases and sightings which have included areas of Wales and Scotland.
The wild boar is the ancestor of the domestic pig and since the first escapes there have been reports of hybridisation, especially in the vicinity of outdoor pig-rearing units. The actual scale of this problem is unknown but hybrids will typically display a shorter snout with a dished profile, smaller shoulders, larger ears, a curly tail and the absence of thick brown under-fur. Pure bred European Boar are likely to be longer in the leg, typically dark in colour with a coarse bristly coat, a large head, long straight snout, relatively flattened body, and a straight tail.
Adult males weigh in the region of 120 to 150 kg and will stand 70 to 90cm at the shoulder with an overall body length of approximately 150cm. These animals will possess razor sharp tusks which will grow progressively from two years of age. Females are about 30% lighter in weight than males, and both sexes have a mane of longer hair running down their backs. Piglets are red-brown to ochre coloured with yellowish longitudinal stripes for the first 4 to 5 months, which is then moulted to a uniform red-brown coat which in turn develops into the adult coat at about 10 to 12 months.
With good feeding both sexes can mature in under a year. Sows can come into heat between October and May but the height of the season is between November and January. Subordinate females coming into season may be synchronised with the dominant sow. Gestation is 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days. They are prolific and regular breeders, with litter sizes increasing with age. When food is abundant, sows can produce two litters a year and this poses issues over the practicality of a close season. They have the potential for very rapid population growth if not actively managed. Defra has assessed the population in England to be 500 -1,000 animals but those who are actively managing boar consider this to be a gross underestimate.
Wild boar live in hierarchical groups of females and young, usually led by the oldest sow. Sows generally only leave the group to look after new-born piglets until they are about 2 weeks old. The sow will normally make a farrowing nest out where the litter will be delivered. Fully grown males tend to be solitary, roaming around their territories, other than during the breeding season. Groups of young males often stick together during summer after being pushed out by females before farrowing.
The keeping of farmed wild boar is controlled under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. This means that anyone farming wild boar must have a licence from the Local Authority. The keeping of wild boar for exhibition to the public in zoos and wildlife parks is controlled by the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. Both the Classical Swine Fever (England) Order 2003 and the African Swine Fever (England) Order 2003 make provisions for notification of the disease in feral pigs (including wild boar) and restriction of hunting of feral pigs (wild boar) in designated investigation or infected areas.
Feral wild boar have no specific legal protection but are covered by more general legislation covering mammals in the wild, such as the Wild Mammals Protection Act, 1996 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Wild boar exist on a diet that is predominantly vegetarian but, being omnivorous, they are extremely capable of capitalising on any food source that presents itself. Their habit of rooting through the floor of woodland and pasture leaves a dramatic indicator of their presence. They will take both eggs and nestlings of ground-nesting birds and are unlikely to be tolerated by those with game shooting interests as feeders, cover crops and release pens may also be subject to their unwanted attention. Damage to agriculture can be extensive if the population is allowed to increase unchecked. There are some reports of boar taking lambs and they will most certainly feed on any carrion that they find.
Wild boar are likely to be managed by shooting, trapping, or exclusion by fencing. They pose very little threat to humans as long as they are not unduly disturbed; during the breeding season any sow with piglets needs to be given a wide berth. When injured or wounded, a wild boar can be very unpredictable. Wounded animals need to be followed swiftly to ease their suffering and this activity requires sound planning with appropriate equipment, dogs and firearms. BASC has previously recommended that a minimum calibre for shooting this species under UK conditions should be .270 rifle with a suitably heavy bullet. Some BASC members who are actively managing wild boar would consider this calibre to be on the light side and point to the continent where 9.3mm is a popular choice. Any rifle used for the control of wild boar needs to be specifically conditioned by the firearms licensing department of your local police force.
The crucial component of any cull management plan will ensure that breeding sows are not shot when they are lactating and have dependent young. As has been previously mentioned, there is no defined season when litters will be born so most culling operations are likely to concentrate on males and immature females. Trapping of such a large animal is a very specialised area and it needs detailed consideration before being contemplated. Further advice can be obtained through the Deer Management Department if required and fencing specifications will be produced as part of the best practice guidance.
It is not illegal to shoot boar at night or under the moon and in areas of high disturbance or culling pressure, this intelligent animal is likely to become exclusively nocturnal. Under such conditions it is even more important to ensure that the correct sex and age class of animal is selected.
Defra has conducted a specific risk assessment and consider that the risk of disease incursion into the feral wild boar population to be low. As part of its ongoing monitoring programme the Food Standards Agency has recently instigated a voluntary trichinella testing scheme for stalkers who are shooting wild boar and wish to use the meat for their own consumption, or who are supplying locally without going through an approved game handling establishment. Sampling kits are supplied free of charge, with postage-paid envelopes included. The detailed location of where the animals are shot remains confidential and FSA aims to inform the stalker within two days of the results. It is very simple to take the sample; all that is required is small piece of the diaphragm from close to the chest wall.
Anyone interested in registering for the scheme and receiving sampling kits should contact the FSA on 020 7276 8377
Many of the points raised by BASC in its response to the Defra consultation are being addressed through the provision of best practice guidance rather than implementing new legislation. The Wild Boar Action Plan will cover a wide range of topics such as impacts of wild boar and their management, minimum recommended firearms calibres, best practice and safe shooting and public awareness and how to react to boar in the wild. BASC is pleased that Defra has recognised that the local strategy for dealing with wild boar must be decided by those who will be most affected by their presence, ie the landowners, farmers, and wildlife managers in the areas concerned. This action plan is a positive first step in developing a coherent long-term strategy for the management of this once indigenous species.
After an absence of some 300 years, wild boar are present in England once again. Coming across wild boar or their signs is likely to be a new or uncommon experience for many people and landowners and managers may have to become used to the presence of wild boar on their land.
In 2006 Defra undertook a public consultation exercise on the wild boar in Britain. The press statement from Defra and the consultation documents, including the summary of responses, can be found below.
There are currently no legal requirements, but BASC supports the best practice guidance produced by the Deer Initiative which recommends a rifle of not less than .270 for wild boar.
Current information is patchy and inaccurate. For further info go to:
1. Are wild boar native to the UK?
Wild boar used to be native, but they became extinct about 300 years ago due to habitat loss and overhunting.
2. I have heard about the potential re-introduction of former native animals such as wolves to the UK, have wild boar been re-introduced deliberately?
No. Most of the animals have escaped from animal parks or wild boar farms. These animals have now bred and the population is increasing.
3. Do wild boar have any natural predators in the UK?
No. Wild boar have no predators in the UK except man.
4. Are wild boar protected by law?
Currently there are no specific provisions giving formal legal protection to wild boar or controlling their management and culling. However animals caught in traps are protected against unnecessary suffering by the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Wild boar living freely in the wild are protected against specific acts of cruelty by the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996.
5. Can I keep wild boar on some fields that I own?
Wild boar or their hybrid offspring can only be kept under a licence issued in accordance with the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. Premises where they are kept are subject to inspection to see that they are secure and that the animals are properly cared for. Licences are obtainable from the relevant Local Authority. The keeping of wild boar for exhibition to the public in wildlife and farm parks is covered by the Zoo Licensing Act 1981.
6. I would like to have wild boar running free on my estate/ farm where there is ample suitable woodland habitat? Can I simply buy some animals from a nearby wild boar farm and release them on my land?
The release of wild animals including non-native species is controlled by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Part 1 section 14 of the Act makes it an offence to release, or allow to escape in to the wild, any animal of a kind which is “Not ordinarily resident in and is not a regular visitor to Great Britain in a wild state”.
Section 27 then defines a number of terms used in Part 1, but strangely does not give any definition of “ordinarily resident”. There is now a need for guidance on whether wild boar having existed in a feral state for many years could be considered as ordinarily resident.
7. Given that it is illegal to intentionally release wild boar into the wild, how come those people keeping wild boar under licence have not been required to recapture escaped animals?
Neither the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 nor the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (Modification) Order 1984 makes any provision to require a licensee to take any action to recover escaped animals.
Under Section 6 of the Act, Local Authorities have the power to seize any animal(s) and retain or destroy them, if any animal is being kept contrary to the Act or any condition of the license under which it is being held. It has not been tested yet whether these powers could potentially be used to recapture escaped animals at the licensee’s expense.
8. If wild boar become more widespread, will they cause damage to the woodland ecology?
No. As wild boar were formerly a native species they should have a beneficial effect since they are replacing a lost part of the ecosystem. Scientific studies including work done by the University of Sussex suggest that although rooting of the soil can cause damage to carpets of bluebells, this impact is generally localised and short-lived and plants regrow in following years with increased vigour. Rooting also encourages the growth of new plants by uncovering dormant seeds in the soil. However there is some evidence that rooting in species-rich semi-natural grassland can encourage colonisation by invasive weed species.
9. Do Wild boar damage crops?
Yes. Particularly if their sources of natural food are in short supply. Boar feed on a wide variety of food and will readily feed on agricultural crops. Favourite crops include sugar beet, maize, potatoes, oats, wheat and grassland. In England, most of the damage reported has been damage to maize crops and rooting in grassland.
Wild boar will also eat carrion such as dead livestock, and they have been reported to take dead and very weak lambs.
10. Are wild boar likely to be a danger to Guns, beaters or their dogs on driven pheasant days?
No. If left well alone. The boar will most likely move away from the guns and beaters before the drive starts. They are only likely to attack if cornered or threatened.
11. I have wild boar on the land where I shoot and the land owner has given me permission to shoot them. Do I need to have my firearms certificate endorsed by the police to shoot wild boar?
Yes you should get your FAC conditioned by your Firearms Licensing Dept. Although some people may argue that you can shoot wild boar under a vermin or general estate wildlife management authorisation, from a peace of mind it is best to get the authorisation first rather than risk a potential prosecution or difficulty in future renewals of your FAC.
12. Is my normal deer rifle suitable for shooting wild boar?
Potentially yes. Wild boar are very large tough animals. Their chest cavity is well protected by a thick plate of cartilage, muscle and fat, which usually requires a deep penetrating bullet to humanely control mature specimens. Wounded animals can become very aggressive and attack the hunter or worse escape and attack people out in the countryside.
Therefore the suggested minimum calibre which is accepted by most police forces is .270 and 130 grain bullet and a minimum muzzle energy of 2600ft/lbs.
This should be regarded as the absolute minimum and larger calibre rifles should be used if possible. The 9.3 calibre rounds are very popular on the continent and are well proven for wild boar. It could be argued that .375 and larger calibres should also be allowed for wild boar.
12 bore or larger shotguns using only a single projectile (rifled slug) can also be suitable for wild boar in certain conditions.
13. Can wild boar be shot at night with a lamp?
Yes. There are no restrictions on shooting wild boar at night as wild boar have no specific legal status. However it is important to behave in a humane manner at all times, and to prevent any act of cruelty that may leave you open to prosecution under the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 ie do you have procedures and any equipment to follow up and dispatch any wounded animals in the dark
14. Are there any closed seasons for wild boar?
No. There are no closed seasons for wild boar.
15. Can dogs be used to hunt wild boar?
No. Not as a pack of hounds, but two dogs may be used to track and follow up wounded or injured animals.