Talking dirty, about boars

Wild BoarFor some reason I seem to keep turning up at wild parties well after they’ve finished. By the time I get there, all of the participants have long departed, but I can usually tell from the mess that’s left behind that I missed out on quite an event. The last time this happened, up in Roquefort-les-Pins, it looked like an EU summit after-party had taken place, and shockingly, from the marks left behind in the garden and the footprints in the mud, all the indications were that some of the participants had engaged in some very dirty frolics indeed. Outrageous you might think, and possibly no doubt the kind of event Berlusconi would have relished – yet thankfully I didn’t feel that excluded, as it transpired that the owners of the property hadn’t been sent invitations either. It turns out the occasion was less "car keys in the bowl" and more "trotters in the birdbath". That’s right: I’m talking boar.

The term "wild boar" in common parlance covers both feral pigs (domestic animals that have escaped) and the native species. The two animals can freely hybridise (and indeed do, to produce animals with much bigger litters than normal), and wild boar are native right across central and northern Europe, the Mediterranean region, much of Asia and as artificial introductions to the Americas and Australasia. Interestingly, while the domestic pig has 38 chromosomes, the boar has only 36: first generation hybrids have 37 and after this they can have 36, 37 or 38. In French, the word sanglier is derived from the Latin word singularis, since adult males live a solitary existence outside of the breed- ing season (in autumn, triggered by shortening days), wandering around much of the time on their own. Mainly nocturnal, these stocky creatures will eat almost anything edible they come across, from fruits and berries, to roots, tubers, insects, refuse and small reptiles.

I might make light of it, but to the uninitiated, seeing your garden after a visit from these blighters is no laughing matter. Indeed, the party atmosphere evaporates faster that you can say daube sanglier when you realise that the grass you’ve been lovingly tending has been assiduously ploughed from end to end. Annoyingly, they manage to shred the turf in a manner that makes replacing it in even a vaguely satisfactory way nigh on impossible: the result is nearly always that even after your best efforts, what was once a gloriously even emerald thatch looks like it has suddenly protracted a bad case of alopecia. On one memorable occasion I had nearly all of the plants my staff planted in a garden the day before lifted out of their holes as if someone had passed round a memo indicating that a giant truffle had been hidden under one of them. I say memorable – nobody was smiling that morning.

Obviously you have to consider protection from these horticultural louts, and ASBOs just aren’t going to cut it. You need to consider more comprehensive measures, and this boils down to two options: electric or physical prevention.

What a boar

The word "boar" is used for adult males of several species including the domestic pig, however although perhaps a little confusingly, in the case of wild boar, the title covers the entire species. Despite their reputation, these animals will only attack if cornered or when defending their young. Young boar, known as marcassins in French, have classic striped markings that disappear as they get a little older, so if you get to see these stripes, there is probably a mother nearby and you should probably be running away. That said, they are known to give fair warning when they are getting agitated, announced by a loud smacking of their teeth (casse la noisette) – probably another feature best experienced in conjunction with rapid movement in the opposing direction.

Amped up

Unfortunately, while many will tout the benefits of a good electric shock (something else that would perhaps be good for quite a few members of an EU summit), electric fences in my experience never seem to work that well for gardens in our area.

In principle, they work superbly, by sending very short duration pulses of low-current high voltage power (usually between two and ten thousand volts) at regular intervals around twine cables woven with a wire strand, which is delivered when any earthed animal (or unsuspecting gardener) comes into contact with it. The problem however is that every branch and bit of scrub that touches the cable is also earthed, consequently sapping the power from the cable. In almost every case where garden owners have tried an electric fence, the protection is soon rendered useless by vegetation as they are simply not able to adequately maintain it, and the boars have returned. That said, if you have a problem with boar and have a property where the periphery is clear of shrubs and scrub and is easily maintained, an electric fence could be a good solution for you. They are quick to install and fairly inexpensive, the best units being those that have electronic power controls and can adapt their output to the installation they are attached to.

Border Control

In principle, they work superbly, by sending very short duration pulses of low-current high voltage power (usually between two and ten thousand volts) at regular intervals around twine cables woven with a wire strand, which is delivered when any earthed animal (or unsuspecting gardener) comes into con- tact with it. The problem however is that every branch and bit of scrub that touches the cable is also earthed, consequently sapping the power from the cable. In almost every case where garden owners have tried an electric fence, the protection is soon rendered useless by vegetation as they are simply not able to adequately maintain it, and the boars have returned. That said, if you have a problem with boar and have a property where the periphery is clear of shrubs and scrub and is easily maintained, an electric fence could be a good solution for you. They are quick to install and fairly inexpensive, the best units being those that have electronic power controls and can adapt their output to the installation they are attached to.

Wild pigs (Sus scrofa) can reach up to 2m in length, weigh over 200kg, live an average of 15 years and travel up to 50km/h – surprising for their stature. Combined with their bristly fur and tusks these can be quite formidable beasts, but the reality is that these are fairly timid animals that usually run (and fast!) when disturbed.
By James Hartley - 
Director, English Garden Group

From Reporter Issue 149
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