Report from Chris Smith
Back in medieval times, getting hold of a pound of sausages was a lot
riskier than it is now.
Wild boars were up to four times the weight of friendly farmyard pigs, with huge razor-sharp tusks and a temper to match.
Legend has it that a woman archer narrowly saved Henry VIII's bacon when she shot a wild boar just before it gored him.
Now 300 years after they were hunted to extinction, the fearsome creatures have re-established themselves in the wild and are once again causing havoc.
Adam Quinney, a Warwickshire livestock farmer, said: "They are like a pig with attitude. When they are cornered and feel threatened they turn very vicious and charge people."
In parts of Warwickshire and Herefordshire, an increasing population of wild boar is causing problems for farmers by disturbing livestock and causing damage to crops. In separate incidents, the animals have been blamed for savaging a heifer, knocking down an elderly woman, and even impregnating some captive sows.
Matthew Price, group secretary for the National Farmers' Union in Ledbury and Ross-on-Wye, said he was concerned for public safety. "A sow with piglets is extremely dangerous. They are impressively large creatures, very fast and very aggressive."
Unlike many British species that have become extinct, wild boar existed in Britain long after the Roman occupation.
At the time of the Norman Conquest, very severe laws were passed against any one who would kill them, except in legitimate chase, and documents show the animal continued to be hunted in a wild state right up until the 16th century, before finally becoming extinct from Britain in 1683.
Wild boar farms were set up in the last century and after the 1987 hurricane ripped up fencing, free-living and expanding populations became established in Kent, East Sussex and Dorset. There have also been regular sightings in Scotland and Humberside.
The number of wild boar in Britain is estimated at 500, and populations are increasing at such a rate that many are now being killed, both by farmers protecting their livelihoods, and sporting shooters hunting them for trophies and meat.
Quinney said: "If you've got a farming situation where they are causing damage, I think it is reasonable to cull them.
"Unless a farmer is prepared to put up high fences around every single field, there is no other way of controlling them."
He added that farmers would be unlikely to compromise with environmental groups in favour of their reintroduction.
"At the end of the day, farmers have to make a profit, and unless they were going to be paid to allow wild boars on their land, they would reluctant to team up with groups who have a different agenda.
"Two or three wild boars is fine, but with a whole group, you might have a problem."
Charlie Jacoby, the editor of Sporting Shooter magazine, said wild boar shooting was set to become the "next big thing" for trophy hunters.
"It is incredibly exciting, much better than boring old pheasants. You hear the crack of twigs and suddenly an animal the size of a motorbike, and with much more acceleration, is standing 30ft away.
"You've got to be quick and you have to keep your nerve."
Not surprisingly, Jacoby is in favour of reintroducing the species. "I think shoots should release boars and get a breeding stock going, in the same way they release pheasants, partridges and deer.
"People who come over here to shoot pheasants spend six times what the average tourist pays ö so imagine how much they'd pay for boar shooting.
"Although some farmers who have had their crops damaged might be against their reintroduction, there are plenty of sporting farmers who would support it."
The wild boar is not the only big mammal to be hunted to extinction in the British Isles.
Wolves were quite numerous when the Romans arrived, but they were wiped out through deforestation and hunting.
The last wolf south of the Scottish border was believed to have been killed sometime in the 1480s, but there is a story that in the 1540s the young Lady Jane Grey was attacked by a wolf which she killed with a small hunting knife and a stick.
The last positive record of wolf presence was in Sutherland in 1691, where the very large sum of £6.13s was paid for the animal.
Beavers once lived throughout the country, but were hunted to extinction because of the value of castoreum (a glandular secretion), their pelts and their tails, which were commonly eaten in the Middle Ages. The last record of a beaver in England was made in 1526.
Their presence is born out by place names such as Beverley in the East Riding of Yorkshire, which was originally called Beverlac, the place or lake of beavers, and Bevere Island on the Severn at Grimley, a direct derivation of Beaver Island.
Aurochs, which are the ancestors of present-day domestic cattle, became extinct in Britain during the Roman period. The last auroch died in 1627 in a Polish game preserve, but primitive races of cattle still live in the Scottish Highlands.
The brown bear is thought to have become extinct in Britain around AD 900.
Its elimination was caused by loss of habitat ö it requires a very large area of undisturbed woodland ö but was also related to its highly territorial habit; brown bears return repeatedly to fruits and berries within their home territory, making them an easy prey for hunters.
Lynx were once a native of the greater part of Britain, but died out, or were exterminated, by Roman times. Other indigenous animals wiped by climatic changes include the Irish elk, horse and reindeer, which were last alive in Britain in the Middle Stone Age, and the elk, from the Bronze Age.
Dr Valerie Keeble, chief executive of Mammals Trust UK said that the charity advocated the controlled reintroduction of some British fauna, such as the beaver to Scotland. However, she was concerned about the resurgence of wild boar.
"Ultimately, we might like to see the reintroduction of wild boar following consultations with local communities and scientific study into viability and safety.
"But because wild boar have not been introduced in these conditions, and have escaped in areas where they cause significant damage, we can understand why farmers would feel the need to shoot them to protect their livestock."
Keeble said the charity Mammals Trust UK would like to see DEFRA give a lead in resolving the problems caused wild boar.
© The Scotsman, 21 st January 2004
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