PERSPECTIVE is needed when it comes to speculations about the dangers posed by wild boar in Scotland, an expert has said.

Last week, residents near Loch Ness called on the Scottish Government to cull the animals over concerns they were killing sheep and could potentially attack a human.

However, wild boar expert Chantal Lyons called for “perspective” and said decisions on how the control the animals needed to be led by evidence.

Where did they come from?

WILD boar are native to Scotland but were hunted to extinction around 300 years ago.

In the early 2000s, reports began to emerge of wild boar sightings in numerous areas around the country.

It’s believed that escapees from farms and estates, which kept the animals for meat or hunting, have been interbreeding with feral pigs.

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This has resulted in numerous populations of the hybrid swine establishing themselves in areas such as the Great Glen in the Highlands and parts of Dumfries and Galloway.

Currently, there is no exact figure on how many there are roaming wild in Scotland but previous estimates suggest there could be as many as 5000.

What’s the problem?

FARMERS in the Great Glen say that wild boar have been damaging arable land, killing sheep, and causing fear among the local population.

In response, the Scottish Government has said responsibility for controlling the animals lies with individual landowners, with Forestry and Land Scotland killing more than 80 boar in the Great Glen since 2016.

“It only takes a handful of boar a single night to do a lot of damage to a pasture,” said Lyons, who spent two years studying the 900-strong wild boar population in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire for her new book Groundbreakers.

“They can definitely have financial consequences for landowners.

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“However, you can argue that it’s one of the trade-offs we need to deal with to have this important species back in our ecosystems.”

The rooting behaviour of wild boar has been shown to enhance soil fertility and their effectiveness at spreading seeds and spores across landscapes helps with the regeneration of woodlands.

Lyons added: “They also create wallows - something that’s been missing from our landscape for centuries since wild boar went extinct.”

Do wild boar pose a threat to sheep?

SINCE their return to Scotland’s landscapes, numerous farmers have accused wild boar of predating upon their livestock – in particular, sheep.

However, Lyons said that confirmed cases of wild boar killing sheep were rare.

“I really don’t want to dismiss it out of hand,” she said.

“Denials that white-tailed eagles were predating on lambs and not just scavenging upon them added fuel to the fire and caused tension in the wake of their reintroduction.

“Of course, wild boar mainly eat plants but they are omnivorous and opportunistic. They’ll take a free lunch and scavenge on carrion.

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“Still, these animals aren’t predators and at the moment, there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that they’re actively targeting sheep.

“For example, in the Forest of Dean, there’s a free-roaming population of sheep which live alongside wild boar.

“While people have spotted boar scavenging on the carcasses of sheep that have been hit by cars, nobody has seen a wild boar actually attack a sheep.

“That’s not to say it can’t happen – but there needs to be evidence”.

Do they attack humans?

SIMILARLY, concerns have been expressed in the Highlands that wild boar could attack humans.

Some have even speculated that the animals have the potential to kill.

“I think it’s very telling that since the first wild boar escaped into the wild in the UK back in 1987, there’s only been two recorded cases of them attacking people,” said Lyons.

In 2018, while walking his dog in the Forest of Dean, 53-year-old Clive Lilley had the pad of his fingertip bitten off by a boar.

While another reported case in Fyne, Argyll involved a woman being rammed by a female sow, also while walking her dog.

The National: Wild boar by Thomas Winstone

Lyons added: “They’re literally the only two cases over the past 30 years.

“I’m aware that lots of people do believe that boar will attack them but unless you’ve got one cornered or it’s injured, there’s really nothing to fear.

“I think we need to have perspective. We don’t need hysteria towards them in the media.

“The Forest of Dean is an interesting case study because 10 years ago, people were saying it was only a matter of time before a child was killed by a boar.

“Now, a decade on, it hasn’t happened and people are far more used to them.

“If people in other countries are capable of living with much more dangerous animals, we’re perfectly capable of living with wild boar”.

Does Scotland need an official culling programme?

IN the Forest of Dean, Forestry England has been culling wild boar since 2008.

While animals such as lynx, wolves and bears would previously have predated upon wild boar in the UK, their absence leaves them with only one natural predator - humans.

“We’ve always hunted them,” said Lyons. “There’s definitely something positive to be made of wild boar being hunted in Scotland – not least because they provide a source of ethical and sustainable meat.

“First, though, there needs to be more research on how many of them there actually are in Scotland.

“You need to work out how many there are in order to know how many need to be killed every year.

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“That requires a coherent strategy and coherent reporting so that we know how many are being shot by different stakeholders.

“That’s definitely something that needs improving in the Forest of Dean. Forestry England culls boar but there are tons of private landowners shooting them, too.

“Now, we have no idea how many are being shot and it really threatens the legitimacy of the culling programme.”

Should wild boar be legally protected in Scotland?

FARMERS have been calling on the Scottish Government to develop a policy on wild boar and feral pigs for years.

As well as damage caused to crops, they cite concerns about them being vectors of diseases such as African Swine Fever, which would have devastating impacts on the industry if spread to domestic pigs.

Both rewilders and farmers agree that Scotland needs a plan.

“The only legal protection wild boar have at the moment is you have to the right calibre of rifle in order to shoot them,” said Lyons.

The National:

“So, I’d like to see the legitimacy of this returning native mammal be recognised.

“Obviously, these populations aren’t 100% genetically pure wild boar. But that’s the reality of life in the modern age.

“To utilise that as a reason not to allow them to continue living wild in Scotland would be madness because regardless of genetic purity or not, they can do things to our ecosystems that no other species can”.

Chantal Lyons’s book, Groundbreakers: The Return of Britain's Wild Boar, was published in February.