NFU Scotland’s Pigs Committee Chair explains his concerns about the rising numbers of feral pigs in Scotland and why it’s beyond time solutions were enacted upon.

If it’s not foxes, badgers and sea eagles that farmers have to worry about, it’s now pigs. Feral Pigs have become a problem over the past few years to the point now that they are being seen in broad daylight attacking, killing and eating sheep, damaging crops and presenting a serious threat of disease. The Scottish Government was warned seven years ago in a report written by Nature Scot that these animals were getting out of control, and they have still not come up with a policy of control.

Feral pigs are pigs that have either been released or have escaped from farms and are descended from domestic breeds often crossed with wild boar. There are two large herds in Scotland that are causing problems, one in Aberdeenshire and the other in Dumfries.

These pigs are a problem for several reasons. The first and most obvious is that they damage fields by rooting in search of food and to digging holes to wallow in. Sometimes these holes are so big heavy machinery is needed to fill them back in again. They also cause economic damage by damaging trees and crops. Recently there has been reports in the press about them attacking livestock, such as sheep, for food.

Currently there are no laws protecting feral pigs which means that landowners are able to protect their fields and livestock by humanely removing pigs on their land. A document produced by NatureScot, given to Government in 2015, recommended not letting the numbers of pigs grow beyond their 2015 numbers, and outlined possible ways to control feral pig populations most effectively. It suggests that relying on shooting alone is not the best way to control, as the herd would disperse quite quickly. They suggested drop nets and corrals as the most optimum, with modern technology, these can be remotely activated making them much more efficient methods than they once were. NatureScot’s suggestion is to train landowners in the use of these methods to help reduce the numbers.

However, a revisit of this study in 2022 now refers to the fact that these animals now pose a huge risk of the spread of African Swine Fever. This disease is probably the most fatal disease that can infect pigs, with mortality rates of 95-100% being common. It is in over 70 countries in the world, some of those being the world’s largest pig producers, but as of today it is not in the UK. The disease spreads from pig contact but also stays active in meat, sometimes for over a year. As an Island, the only risk of this disease coming into our country is from meat brought into the country and finding its way into UK pigs, with feral pigs or wild boar the greatest concern. For a disease as fatal as ASF to find its way into one of the most consumed protein sources in the world you would think the Government would take this risk seriously…..

Unsurprisingly you would be wrong. The UK Government allows the importation of pork meat from countries all over the world that have ASF present, restricting meat only from the regions ‘known’ to have ASF. They don’t do any border checks whatsoever on meat entering the UK from the EU, checking the meat is from where it says it is.  They will not re-assess the risk posed by countries, such as Germany, when they have seen significant jumps in disease spread, over 100’s kms, suggesting they are unable to control the spread of the disease.

The remit for border control and importation is not devolved therefore the Scottish Government can’t do anything about strengthening restriction on import, but the issue of feral pig control is devolved.  Scottish Government have it within their power to create a policy that will either eradicate this risk or at least control numbers from increasing beyond a sustainable number (each feral breeding sow pig can have over 20 pigs per year!). The hard work of identifying the problem and coming up with solutions has already been done by NatureScot but it needs actioned by Scottish Government as soon as possible before the problem becomes any worse. NFU Scotland, alongside other industry organisations, Quality Meat Scotland, Scottish Pig Producers, Pig Veterinary Society. Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, Scottish Land and Estates and Wholesome Pigs, has written to Scottish Government urging them act urgently to control feral pigs, before they become a far more serious problem to tackle.

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