Anyone can spot their first wild boar… If you know where to look..!
Wild boar are undoubtedly Britain’s toughest, and one of Britain’s largest mammals. They are the wild species from which all domestic pigs were selectively bred from. But whilst the UK has around 4 million domestic pigs, we only have a few thousand truly wild boar. To find them, you have to know exactly where to look…
The first thing you must know is that wild boar were hunted to extinction in the UK. Twice!! Despite still being found across the whole of Europe (and forming an essential component of our woodland ecosystems), by the 17th century, they were gone. But thanks to escapes from wild boar farms in the 20th century, many populations have re-established in woodland across the UK. Whilst there is a chance of seeing wild boar at any of these (which I’ll list out at the end of this post), to really guarantee yourself a sighting, there’s only one place to go…
The Forest of Dean
There are now between 1000 and 1600 boar across the Forest of Dean. With no natural predators, and with sows capable of breeding twice every year, the population has been growing fast since the first animals were spotted in the 1990’s.
To spot one, you need to head to one of their favoured spots in the forest. Boar are creatures of habit, and their favourite habit…is eating. Chose a location with good potential food and you’ll soon come across boar signs. Here are my top three places to find wild boar in the Forest of Dean:
1) Near the Speech House Hotel (GL16 7EL): the Speech House road is a favoured site for wild boar looking for food. You’ll see evidence of them all along the margins here, where they’ve turned over the grassy verges with their powerful snouts whilst rooting for food.
Park either at the public Forestry Commission car park at the Cyril Hart Arboretum (about 400m NE of the Speech House Hotel on the southern side of the road) or at the small public car park about 500m further up the same road on the north side, just below Woorgreens Lake (5 cars max, free parking). Drive slowly along this road on the way to these public car parks, you’ll often see boar just rooting along the edges within 20m of the road edge. Walk north around Woorgreens Lake and carry on, the plantations and open ground above Woorgreens are a boar hotspot.
2) New Fancy Viewpoint: incidentally also a great spot to scan for goshawk, the boar love the woodland round here. When you park up at the New Fancy Forestry Commission car park (closest post code GL15 4HS) have a look around the picnic benches and car park verges for recent boar activity. Then, walk north from the car park into the marked woodland walking trails and follow any of the loops – keeping a close eye out for movement amongst the trees. In the denser areas, it’s easier to spot the boar if they cross in front of you, but in many parts you can see right into the woodland if you crouch down a little and scan with binoculars.
3) Brierley: park in the small public car park at 51.831399,-2.548308. Scan the treetops here for hawfinch. You can walk West or East out of this small car park (10 spaces max, free parking) and follow one of the hard track footpaths in a big loop to cover the ground south of Brierley. I find the boar that stay up here are more ‘wild’ and prefer not to be seen, so they’re a good challenge!
Top five boar-spotting tips:
- Chat to other walkers, it’s not uncommon for someone to say “oh yeah, there are four boar just round that corner over there”! Or, “I see them every morning in this spot“
- Wear bright clothing. But you always need to be camouflaged when watching animals, right?! Not boar! The boar in the Dean are very used to walkers and dogs. If they want to be seen, they’ll let themselves be seen. If they want to disappear, they’ll disappear. If you’re looking for your first boar, go for the easy ones! You don’t want to surprise a boar, so as long as they can see you from a safe distance, chances are you’ll get a great sighting.
- Go with someone – two+ pairs of eyes are better than one when looking for boar.
- Drive around slowly – more often than not, you’ll just see boar feeding along or near the road verges. If you’ve got one person driving plus a family of spotters you can cover a lot of ground whilst looking for them around their favoured spots!
- Find oak trees! In autumn and winter, pay close attention near any oak trees – boar LOVE acorns!
The other two key wild boar sites in the UK are in Devon and E. Sussex. I have not yet personally visited the Devon site, and although visiting, I’ve not seen yet the Sussex boar:
1) Devon: between Exmoor, Rackenford and Knowstone are a population of anywhere between 50 and 100+ animals, descendents of animals that were released from a boar farm in 2005 and 2006.
2) East Sussex: in The Weald, a free ranging population of wild boar have been living since the 1980s. These are occasionally spotted on public land (e.g. Cuckmere Haven and Friston Forest) but I’ve been told that many of this population reside on private land.
Other useful sites:
http://friendsoftheboar.blogspot.co.uk is a super blog that does a good job of recording media interest in the boars – which is sadly all too often mis-informed, sensationalist drivel!
https://www.britishwildboar.org.uk is a brilliant website for anyone looking for more detailed information on local populations.
http://m.discoverwildlife.com/british-wildlife/4-ways-we-can-learn-live-wild-boar has some interesting thoughts on how we can manage our boar population. Do boar need to be ‘managed’? As a naturalist and conservationist with a keen interest in their future persistence across the UK, I’d argue absolutely yes. In low numbers they are of huge benefit to the environment. With no natural predators (another solution to help manage them the natural, efficient way) they soon become the most dominant animal in the ecosystem (as is happening in the Dean) and begin to cause more ecological damage than good (e.g. trampling adder hibernacula, breaking up and removing dense understorey growth that nesting birds rely on, eating all the bluebell bulbs over a winter etc).
Good luck, let me know how you get on and please tell me whether you’ve started seeing boar frequently at any other key sites in the Forest of Dean so I can update here. And please do send in pics!