Wild Boar held me captive before moving to France and I had what can only be described as a romantic vision of these animals. An avid reader of Asterix as a child, I also had an experience as a young teenager when camping in Brittany and awoke in the morning to find the campsite ruined by a solitary Boar as it made its nightly ramblings across his or her patch.
It was perhaps a pilgrimage that I insisted to my wife on living in deep rural France. And certainly I took no time in trying to locate these beasts in the ample acreage of woodlands close to our new home.
Although an escaped population of Wild Boar now exist in the UK, they are far from established and all photographic evidence tends to be bias in favour of what can only be described as ‘cute.’
My first encounter and all subsequent encounters with these beasts are as far removed from a cute image as it can get. This first encounter was pre empted by their noise. There is no real stealth required after stumbling into their patch and hoping for a glimpse. The smell and noise hit you long before a glimpse. And it is a prolonged glimpse, they are not scared and are inquisitive and enormous.
A wild boar can weigh up to 325 kg’s, (over 700lbs), the weight of a cow and far from the somewhat rosy image portrayed in Asterix books as can be. They are dirty, smelly with tusks galore, still attractive in a way, but definitely not cute. They possess little fear of humans although display a tendency to be wary of dogs and will charge when threatened.
I saw one not long after it had been ‘culled’ and the hunter was rightly proud of the beast he had fallen. It had been shot because it was likely to have been a menace to walkers, (it was on a newly assigned ‘nature trial’) and with four sharp tusks and a body like a Rhino, I was for the first time in my life glad to see an animal removed from what would have been on my rambling route.
These animals are known to seriously injure and kill people more than any other wild animal in Europe.
The French like hunting. It is in many circumstances barbaric with syndicates surrounding patches of woodland at a time and seemingly obliterating each and every single animal that abides there. Wild Boar woodlands are different. Such woods are subject to very professional hunting and are the gold standard of the hunter’s skills and his or her leisure career.
These woodlands are unlike any other. My son gave me perhaps the best description of a Wild Boar woodland which he described as being like ‘Africa’, after having accidentally strayed into their area – Although having never been to African wilderness, the monitor images we all have of Africa are thus- you realise you are in the domain of an animal that is on a par with a human in terms of dominating the landscape.
After little time you can enter a French woodland and know very quickly whether Wild Boars are present. They have not only changed the landscape but the trees within that landscape. It is to someone from the UK, an alien landscape. There are no indicators to read the history of a wooded landscape left, you are simply in the presence of something else’s domain.
When evidence of Boar predominate, trees portray a lifelong battle with the beasts – undergrowth is only that of toxic or sharp colonisers, with ancient, very ancient, hawthorn dominating a forest of scarce and struggling Ash and Oak.
Don’t get me wrong – my romantic connection with Boar remains, indeed it is stronger, for a British forester to suddenly become aware of a real danger in his working environment adds a certain ‘Je ne sais quoi’ – a thrill, as the reality of your profession meets the myths and legends associated with the landscape you work in. It felt like I was renewing my profession. Although I’ve worked in Northern Alberta, Bear country, but the safety videos and measures, the habitual thinking did not prepare me for the fact that I would see nothing – the ultimate anti climax, for which I should be grateful maybe, but still sad.
The Wild Boar has an intrinsic link with trees, it has helped shape a silvo – pastoral element within the semi natural woodland landscape across most of Europe. This landscape is now threatened by climatic influences, particularly non native invasive species toxic to Wild Boar; Robinia pseudoacacia most of all. The first line of defence are the chasseurs, the hunters determined to preserve a landscape to preserve a tradition and for once I understand the need for the preservation of this – because it is also the preservation of a primeval landscape that they are helping to conserve and not the preservation of hunting as a tradition in itself as the British have wrongly become accustomed to.
Vive le Sanglier!