A Defra Minister has acknowledged the need for a clearer strategy for managing the growing feral boar population in the Forest of Dean.
Lord Gardiner was speaking in the Lords during a debate about transferring current EU rules on animal and plant health to the UK from our point of exit from the EU, including African swine fever (ASF) control measures.
“Appropriate Ministers are required to prohibit movement of live feral pigs and to erect advisory signage alerting the public to the ways in which the disease can inadvertently be spread by people who travel to and from affected areas,” he said.
He assured peers that this amendment supplements Defra’s existing powers to prevent and control African swine fever, including powers to cull infected animals and establish protection zones, surveillance zones and feral pig control zones in the event of any such outbreak.
During the debate, Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness Lady Bakewell highlighted local concerns near her home over a farmer who kept wild boar and occasionally let the piglets ‘escape and run riot’.
Picking up on the theme, Lord Gardiner pointed out how ASF had been spreading in wild boar in eastern Europe and had ‘jumped’ to Belgium last year. “There is of course the concern for commercial pig production,” he said. “In the commercial pig units in that area of Belgium, I am afraid that all the pigs had to be put down because of the concern about the spread of the disease.
“That is why it is absolutely imperative that we had the powers to deal with this matter.”
“Mature consideration about how we manage wild boar is needed, not only in relation to adjacent commercial pig production but in general. I know that there is widespread concern among communities in the Forest of Dean about how best to manage an increasing population of wild boar.”
He said the Government was also trying to communicate wider biosecurity messages to the public and farmers, pointing out that the jump to the Czech Republic was connected ‘to someone dropping a pork product’. It is very likely to be the same in Belgium, he added.
“That is why to raise awareness we have, for instance, put out a lot on the biosecurity imperative in the newspapers in languages for people from eastern and central Europe, and about not bringing in pork products for all those reasons. Our communications team is working with industry. In the pig industry, it is absolutely imperative that the personal biosecurity of everyone who works in a pig unit is of the highest order.”
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies welcomed the Defra Minister’s comments, which she said reflected a growing awareness of the need to control the Forest of Dean’s feral pigs.
Addressing an NPA Spring Regional meeting in Newbury on Tuesday, Zoe said the latest population survey put the number of feral boar in the forest’s ‘core area’ at around 2,000, way above the levels considered to be sustainable.
Zoe explained how the NPA had asked AHDB to set up a feral boar action group, which is developing a coherent strategy for controlling feral pig numbers in the UK and reducing the threat they pose in terms of disease spread. “Defra has agreed to update its Feral Boar Action Plan and has asked us to help,” she said.
The group is also working with the local council and forestry officials to raise awareness of risks associated with feeding the Forest of Dean’s growing feral pig population.