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Wild boar (pig)

Sus scrofa

This woodland rootler is a resilient churner of the Earth, breaker of bracken and habitat regenerator

Boar1 sh

At a glance

Status

Extinct in Britain but have returned illegally in some locations. Its domesticated relatives are widespread

Shapes the landscape through

Rooting, scenting, wallowing, seed dispersal

Preferred hangout

Woodlands

Weight

100 kg

Length

1.3 metres

Speed

50 km/h

How it shapes the landscape

Wild boar is the quintessential soil ecosystem engineer. It ploughs through woodland leaf litter, upturning clods in its search for tasty tubers and grubs. By breaking up the sward, the seeds of annual wildflowers, shrubs and trees are given space to germinate. Disturbed ground provides warm basking spots for grasshoppers and burrowing opportunities for myriad species of bees and beetles. By exposing buried seeds, boar provide access to food for hungry birds during the leanest months. 

Wild boar need cooling mud baths to regulate their body temperature in summer months, and they create their own wallows. This, in turn, creates small seasonal wetlands much loved by amphibians and dragonflies. These wetlands also attract myriad birds in need of a bath or a drink, and even feeding egrets and storks. Boar will happily wallow in larger ponds and lakes, and also love beaver pools.

Where it likes to be

Wild boar live in woodland but need access to wetland so that they can wallow.

How much space they need

A good amount of space is needed for wild boar. Tamworth pigs, standing in for wild boar at the Knepp Estate in Sussex, have taken well to their wild surroundings and plough around 40 acres a year. This gives a good indication of the space required.

Background story

Once common in wooded country, the wild boar lost ground in Britain as agriculture decreased and fragmented its woodland home. It finally succumbed to over-hunting and control to safeguard crops in the 13th century. However, wild boar meat remained prized and was farmed. A few brave escapees have led to the re-establishment of wild populations in England, Scotland and Wales.

Special power

Boars provide vital disturbance at ground level, which is crucial to maximising species richness and diversity
10 wild boar WS 1

Can we have them in Britain?

Wild boar remain something of a fugitive in the British countryside. It’s not recognised as a wild native species so cannot be reintroduced officially. Domesticated pigs, such as the Tamworth, can play a similar ecological role. Although wild boar like nothing more than rootling around in woodland and glade soils, they are omnivorous and will eat a wide range of food when the opportunity arises. This can cause problems when they happily plough through a horse’s paddock, the prized turf of a village green or farm crops. 

The value of boar meat makes sustainable control and management possible. Boar have been known to become aggressive in their eagerness for feeding. They also dislike domestic dogs, which they possibly regard as too close to wolves for comfort.

In summary

  • Keystone species
  • Root for food on the woodland floor, in grassy glades and larger paddocks
  • Rooting and digging disturbs the earth, creating niches for wildlife
  • Create their own muddy wallows, which in turn attract a multitude of wildlife
  • Exists illegally in the wild across Britain
  • Not recognised as a native species so it’s not possible to introduce boar to open rewilding sites. Domestic breeds, such as Tamworths, are worthy surrogates.

Images: Wild boar/​Shutterstock and Wild boar — Chris du Plessis

Next in Reintroductions and key species

Wild horse (pony)

Wild horses and ponies can play a leading role in rewilding due to their selective grazing of tougher grasses