Wild boar working group to weigh up feral pig population control

Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) Pork Board has agreed to fund a working group to oversee improved control of the British feral wild boar population.

The board gave the green light after NPA chief executive Zoe Davies presented her proposal for the group to the board this week.

The working group is likely to include the NPA, the British Pig Association, AHDB, the Animal and Plant Health Agency, the Forestry Commission and the Deer Initiative.

It will meet around four times over the next 6-8 months to discuss a coherent strategy for controlling the feral pig population.

The group will initially focus on the Forest of Dean as it has the largest feral pig population with several groups working in the area.

Zoe Davies said: “The feral pig population poses a real disease risk to the national pig herd – particularly in relation to African Swine Fever (ASF) and bovine TB.

It is well documented that the ASF virus has been spreading in wild boar across much of Europe – if the virus got into the wild boar population it would be very hard to control and we would lose our vital export market overnight.

“Proving disease freedom would be very hard so it could take years to get it back and the impact on the industry would be catastrophic.

“But it is important to point out that the feral pig population is causing all sorts of other problems for local residents and visitors, from damage to lawns and farmland to causing road traffic accidents.

“We need a coherent, well-managed and properly funded control strategy – and that is what we will be formulating in this group.”

TB in pigs

Separately, Ms. Davies also met APHA and the Forestry Commission this week to discuss a possible project which would use samples from culled feral pigs in the Forest of Dean to validate candidate serological tests for diagnosing TB in pigs.

“We have long been calling for a validated gamma interferon blood test for TB as the current skin test is not validated for use in pigs.

“This was a really encouraging meeting and I’m delighted to say that APHA and the Forestry Commission have agreed to work together on this project, which will we hope will deliver a breakthrough in TB diagnosis in pigs.”

EFSA wild boar research

A recent paper by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) delivered some interesting insights into controlling wild boar populations at different stages of an African Swine Fever epidemic.

With wild boar known to play an important role in the spread of the disease, the EFSA looked at different strategies for what should be done before, during and after epidemics.

It concluded that measures such as intensive hunting and not feeding wild boar should be implemented to reduce the risks of outbreaks.

When an epidemic is ongoing, activities that may increase the movement of wild boar – such as intensive drive hunts – should be avoided.

Experts could not establish a threshold for wild boar density below which the virus would not take hold as ASF has spread in areas where the presence of wild boar is low.

The opinion highlighted the importance of a regular dialogue between all involved stakeholders to increase preparedness.

Christian Gortazar, chairman of EFSA’s working group on ASF, said: “Experts agreed that building awareness in society and providing incentives to people who report on wild boar carcasses are essential to fight the disease.”

Passive surveillance – reporting of dead wild boar – remains the most effective way to detect new ASF cases at an early stage in previously disease-free areas.