Wild boar escapees now breeding in numbers in Westcountry woodlands
If you go down to the woods today the chances of seeing a wild boar have greatly increased.
The hairy pigs, hunted to extinction in the wild in the 1600s, have been reappearing in numbers in parts of the Westcountry because of escapes and releases from farms.
And now wild boar are starting to be spotted regularly in north Devon, according to the wildlife observation group The Friends of the Boar. The group said several sightings had been made in this year, including one sow with up to six piglets on Exmoor. The adult boars are believed to be either animals released seven years ago or their offspring, it added.
The Devon Wildlife Trust said it would "watch with interest" if such sightings developed further.
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Wild boar are ancestors of our domestic farmyard pigs. The most notable differences, however, from the domestic pig is that boars are larger, weighing up to 150 kgs (330lbs) much hairier and have four tusks, often very sharp, mainly for fighting with other boars during the breeding season.
That means they can inflict severe injuries, especially after a powerful charge but, for the most part, they like to keep away from people, which is why, although the chances of seeing one have greatly improved, it is still going to be a rare event.
Animal activists released more than 100 boar from a farm near South Molton in December 2005 and another 45 were set loose in a second incident in February 2006. Despite searches by farmers and a local hunt, more than 60 were believed to have evaded capture.
Sightings died down after the animals' initial release although more recently animals had been spotted on Exmoor and near the villages of Rackenford and Knowstone in north Devon. It is now widely accepted the animals are breeding in the wild.
The observation group Friends of the Boar said that the fact that sow and piglets were seen: "proves that they are breeding and making a much needed comeback to the wild".
Friends of the Boar, originally founded in the Forest of Dean, said the sighting reports had been "very exciting".
The group includes conservationists, photographers and residents near boar sites.
It added: "We all know that these animals can cause a minimal amount of damage when rooting for food, but we need to look at the bigger picture and the benefits there is of having wild boar around us."
Benefits included boar turning the top layers of grass, which encouraged grass and new plant growth, bringing more wildlife, it said.
The Devon Wildlife Trust said boar were a species that were "emotive" to people. It said: "There can be impacts on people who own land and they can affect crops.
"In some areas, they can come into conflict with people. But while they remain in low densities, they can be an interesting additional feature of the country. We'll watch with interest how this develops."
On the continent wild boar are still hunted. In France dogs are used to drive the boar towards the guns, who often use high seats, placed up in the trees, from which to get a shot. Boar shooting also takes place in parts of Britain, on a much smaller scale.