Wild Boars of Rye
PUBLISHED: 15:36 18 November 2013 | UPDATED: 15:43 18 November 2013
Once extinct, wild boar made a comeback after the 1987 great storm and are now found in their hundreds. Pay homage to Britain's biggest wild animal during a week of festivities in Rye.
They could outrun Usain Bolt, weigh up to 150kg, have pointy teeth, razor sharp tusks, and like to hang out in gangs around Rye. Nervous? Well, actually you’ve no need to be. Wild boar may sound very fierce, but as shy, largely nocturnal creatures, the most likely way you’ll see one is served up on a plate.
Originally a species native to these shores, wild boar were hunted to extinction by the end of the 17th century, but began to re-emerge in the late Eighties. The theory goes that they escaped from private farms during the great storm of 1987. Once back in their natural habitat they began to breed, and a feral population was quickly established.
Unlike deer, there’s no official census detailing how many wild boar there are, though there are estimates of around 1,000 on the Kent and Sussex borders.
But Peter Smith at the Wildwood Trust has seen fewer of them over the last few years, and is concerned numbers may be dwindling.
Currently, boar can be shot by anyone with the right gun licence and permission from the landowner, though the Forestry Commission also employs hunters to control the boar. They can be hunted at any time of year. Peter would like to see Defra introduce a hunting season, as with other types of game.
“At the moment it can be very cruel, because suckling piglets can lose their mothers,” says Peter. “We also need a specific licence to shoot boar, like we do deer. Boar have hard skulls and thick skins. You really do need to know what you’re doing, or the animal can suffer.”
In the right numbers, Peter says that boar improve woodland habitat by encouraging plant diversity. “They clear non-native plants like rhododendrons by rooting for food and most importantly, spread the oak tree seed. Without them, the future of our national tree isn’t looking good.”
Too many boar though and these benefits are cancelled out, not only because they eat too much, but also by the damage that they do.
“A boar can turn over ground like a ploughed field,” says Jenny Farrant, an arable and livestock farmer in the Rye area. “Last year the wild boar did a lot of damage on our land because the terrible summer meant there weren’t any acorns in the woods and they had nothing to eat. We had to completely re-sow one field.
“The boar also used to come in and mate with our pigs. We had quite a few litters of stripy piglets, which were very pretty, but meant we lost money because they were no longer pure bred.
“They’re not as horrendous though as people make out – no worse than deer. They just have to be controlled because they don’t have any natural predators, like bear or wolf. When they get troublesome, we call in a hunter. Unfortunately, we also get poachers. One lot wanted to shoot boar down with bows and arrows.”
The urge to hunt boar isn’t just for the thrill – wild boar is in demand as a food. Cai Ap-Bryn, who has hunted for boar on the East Sussex and Kent border, set up The Wild Food Catering Company two years ago and boar features prominently on the menu.
“You have to cook it differently to pork,” he says. “It’s a darker, richer, leaner meat with great flavour. Because there’s less fat, it can dry out, so it’s best slow-roasted with bacon, or used in sausages or burgers. Pulled wild boar shoulder, marinated and cooked slowly in a barbecue liquor, then shredded and served with wild rocket and caramelised red onions, is a new dish which is going down particularly well.”
Mike Pepler, who owns woodland close to Rye which he manages for biodiversity and the production of traditional charcoal and firewood, says that although he rarely sees wild boar, footage recorded by a motion camera depicts groups of up to five most nights.
“I like them,” he says. “They’re the biggest wild animal we have in the UK - an adult male is six feet long – which feels pretty special.
“I don’t find them frightening. Most of the time, they’re scared of us. The only time you have to watch out is if you have a dog off the lead and they come across some piglets. That might mean a visit to the vet.”
Big, if not exactly beautiful, the boar is being celebrated in Rye this month as part of Wild Boar Week.
A food safari around Rye’s hostelries offers the chance to try a variety of wild boar tapas. The George Hotel promises a Medieval banquet inspired by Dark Ages delicacies such as wild boar, grouse, mulled wine, ale and mead, and the Ship Inn will serve the likes of pig ear and pea soup, slow-roasted belly pork and wild boar sausages alongside a range of 10 local ciders and perries. There will also be lots of vegetarian options for non-meat eaters.
Other attractions include the farmers’ market, selling local produce, a mini cider festival, and events such as quizzes and children’s activities.