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Hog wild

March 2006

Can Boris the boar come to the rescue of woodland?

Hog wild

A family of wild boars have been released into a Scottish forest as part of a new tree conservation scheme, 300 years after they were originally hunted to extinction.

The decision to release these animals into the woodland is a sign of new emerging attitudes towards ecosystem management and countryside stewardship in the UK.

According to The Independent (30 August 2005), eight sows, 40 young and a boar called Boris are to be introduced to the Caledonian forest in Glen Affric near Inverness.

Forest managers want to restore the original forest landscape. They hope that the wild boars will reduce the dominance of undergrowth bracken, which is preventing the growth of new trees.

A close relative of pigs, omnivorous wild boars feed on all sorts of forest floor organisms (such as fungi and insects).

In foraging for good things to eat, they clear back undergrowth, churn up the soil and provide a fertile seed bed for native trees such as pine, rowan and birch to germinate and grow in.

Forest managers describe the boars as a "ground disturbance force", vital to the work now being undertaken to restore ancient forests of Scotland.

These were cut down for early agriculture and later for fuel and timber during the industrial revolution. However, efforts to plant new trees have been hindered by unusually high levels of rainfall in recent years.

This has helped undergrowth bracken to grow far more vigorously than usual. The shade beneath the dense bracken cover is inhibiting the growth of young tree saplings, and prevents seeds from germinating.

Liz Balharry, who is running the pilot project, wanted to find a non-chemical way of controlling the explosive bracken growth.

"Wild boar are a natural component of European forests," she explained to The Independent (30 August 2005). "Their unique rooting behaviour breaks through ground vegetation to create seed beds for the regeneration of trees and other woodland plants." "We hope they will gradually reduce the amount of bracken, which will allow the heather and grasses to grow back."

Trees can then follow heather and grass – which create less shade - as part of a natural process known as plant succession.

In the Members' Area:

  • Restoring the forest - what is the process of plant succession?
  • Are wild boar dangerous?
  • Countryside management - what is Rural Stewardship?
  • Is this rural stewardship in action?
  • How is the creator of Harry Potter helping to conjure up the ancient Dark Forests of Scotland?
  • AS and A2 exam tips

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