Over the last 15 years, free-ranging, breeding populations of feral pigs have become established in Scotland. Following escapes or deliberate releases from wild boar and domestic pig farms, or from collections, at least three breeding populations have become established; in Dumfriesshire, in central Perthshire and in Lochaber. One-off sightings have come from as far apart as Cawdor, Foyers, Glen Lyon and Tomintoul.
All of the feral pigs in Scotland are a result of illegal releases and escapes from captivity. ‘Wild Boar’ (Sus scrofa) became extinct in the UK about 700 years ago. Although formerly native, wild boar are no considered to be out with their native range in Scotland. This means that it is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside act 1981 (section 14) to release any type of pig including wild boar.
Because wild boar can interbreed with domestic pigs, the genetics of the feral populations established in Scotland may come from a mix of both wild boar and domestic pigs. We therefore refer to these animals as ‘feral pigs’.
Recent surveys indicate the feral pig density is still low in Scotland and that we could control their populations if land managers act promptly. But if these populations are allowed to grown unchecked, their rooting behaviour could become a major threat to agricultural productivity and their presence could undermine efforts to control an outbreak of animal disease.
At low densities feral pigs can benefit the natural heritage helping to speed nutrient cycling and break up dense turf to encourage woodland regeneration but at a higher density they can damage vulnerable species (including some nesting birds, invertebrates and plants).
Feral pigs pose only a limited threat to human health and safety, although they will attack dogs, the injuries people have experienced (in other countries with wild boar/feral pig populations) are mostly the result of road traffic accidents.
The existing feral pig populations are still at low density in Scotland and we therefore have a choice about whether the animals should stay or go. Scottish Natural Heritage is providing the Scottish Government with policy advice.
In the meantime, SNH is looking for the help of stalkers, gamekeepers, landowners, farmers and foresters to better understand the distribution of these animals and the speed at which they are moving into new territory.
There is a simple way to report sightings of feral pigs, and that is to complete a short sighting form on the irecord website – www.brc.ac.uk/irecord/enter-casual-record alternatively you can phone SEARS on 08452 302 050 (24hrs/7 days).
You can control feral pigs in Scotland, and it should be undertaken humanely and safely. Interim guidance about methods for controlling feral pigs is available and you can contact SNH direct at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact your local SNH office here.
Any feral pigs that have been shot should be tested for Trichinella in accordance with Food Standard Scotland’s guidance if you are supplying the carcasses or the meat for human consumption.
Morag Milne, Wildlife Policy Officer, SNH