The nation?s population of wild boar may be expanding, but the DEFRA policy on how to control them is yet to materialise. In the same week as ST told the story of Rosemary Hamilton-Meikle, forced to save her dog from three boar while out walking on the edge of Exmoor, the RSPCA warned dog walkers on Dartmoor to be wary of boar at this time of year, as the animals are likely to be protecting young. The population of boar (estimated in 2006 to be in the region of 300 animals) is steadily growing, but their status and future is still uncertain.

DEFRA conducted a consultation that closed this time last year, to which environmental and countryside agencies, organisations and members of the public all responded. Since then, however, no report or guidelines for dealing with the problem have been issued. A spokesman was unable to clarify to ST the department?s stance: ?A response document was published in May 2006,? he said, ?and we?ve been digesting the responses we received in last year?s consultation. At the moment the situation is under review. DEFRA is dealing with other pressing issues, but we can?t really say at this point what the future holds for the UK boar population.?

Dr Stephen Tapper, of the GCT, points out that the UK boar population is growing while we wait for DEFRA to make a decision. He told ST: ?We produced a response to the consultation, which DEFRA reported on. There was an overall view that numbers needed to be managed, but there wasn?t a unanimous view that they should be disposed of entirely. We think the animals would be far too difficult to control, but a lot of people think they?re wonderful. DEFRA hasn?t yet told us what it intends to do and I expect and hope that it will announce something fairly soon.?

Martin Goulding runs the website www.britishwildboar.org.uk and has worked with the animals for many years. He told ST: ?The Government does not have an easy decision to make, as the animals cut across so many issues: public safety, livestock disease, hunting, shooting and livestock ecology. A lot of thought needs to be put into it ? DEFRA?s wheels move slowly as it is; faced with such a difficult decision the wheels have ground to a halt. With increasing numbers of boar being released into the wild, events seem to be overtaking it.

?If they are to be shot, animal welfare issues need to be taken into account, as well as seasons, public safety issues and calibres used. Boar are usually no threat to humans, but injured animals are a different ball game. Vets are terrified they carry foot-and-mouth and swine fever, farmers that they damage crops. It?s very interesting from an ecology point of view: they are the missing piece of our ecological jigsaw.?