Are wild boars heading for East Anglia?
- Credit: Steve Plume
Take a good look at these pictures of wild boar, says photographer Steve Plume. They could be heading our way...
It might take 20 years, it might take 30 years. It might take sooner. But one day, these photographs of wild boar could be taken on our doorsteps in East Anglia.
Extinct for 300 years, wild boar have been making a comeback in this country following releases from wild boar farms. A Defra report in 2008 predicted the species could become established in suitable habitat across much of England over the next couple of decades.
In the meantime, though, I had to make a 430-mile round trip to the Forest of Dean to take these pictures.
When I began 2017 with photographs of a male hen harrier I thought that would be my highlight of the year, but never say never. After a few years of trying and much frustration I finally got close enough to bag a few images of the 'humbugs' or hoglets, the young of Sus scrofa.
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I'd been to the Forest of Dean on the Welsh border a few times and had several encounters with the adults but kept missing the young. The adults form creches and stand guard keeping an eye open for unwelcome visitors. I learned quickly that it's not wise to approach the young until you've located the adults, as one short grunt will have them running for cover.
On my visit I found a dozen young with four adults, so getting the shots I did was extremely satisfying. Next year I'll be even more prepared for a return visit.
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Wild boar are believed to have become extinct in the UK in the 13th century, with several reintroductions up to the 17th century by the reigning monarchs to allow then to hunt again. When boar farming started in the 20th century most of the population were in zoos or on farms but slowly the wild population became robust - robust enough for government bodies in 1998 and 2008 to publish reports on their potential impact (benign or not) on the environment and landscape.
These animals, while native to Britain, are still shrouded in controversy. They can turn rich green lawns and pastures to what resembles ploughed land as they use their armoured and impressive snout to search for foods.
But this apparent devastation has some superb merits. It keeps the land fertile allowing plant growth that assists the lifeforms that rely on that area of the food chain. They are native and do form part of the ecological structure of the forests. The rumour-mongers will advocate they are aggressive and carry disease. Like any mammal in Britain, they will defend themselves - especially if the young are threatened or they are cornered - and have as much ability to carry disease as rabbits, deer or cattle.
Adults can grow to a metre tall at the shoulder and more than 1.5m in length, with males weighing in at up to 170kg and the sows at 120kg. So it's amazing when you watch four adults and 12 young disappear into a wooded area in absolute silence and no trace.
The sows will give birth in March to April and can be suckling into July, so if you're heading west there's still time to see this native species. My advice is stay quiet, wait in areas where there are young conifer plantations, wear dark drab colours, and centre your search west of Cannop Ponds. Boar have relatively poor eyesight but acute hearing.
And they are very, very good at hide and seek - until last week they had eluded me for a few years.
Don't forget if you have any wildlife stories that could be photographed please let me know via firstname.lastname@example.org. More of my pictures can be seen on www.ukwildlife.me.uk.