You can’t miss the signs of wild boar in the Forest of Dean – the road verges appear to have been enthusiastically but amateurishly rotovated. When we visited in January hundreds of square metres around the car park had been worked over, and it did not take much by way of fieldcraft to spot the culprits. A small sounder (family group) of mother and three young were only metres from the cars, intently truffling for root, grub and worm, a blackbird following them as a gull follows the plough.
They wield their proud snouts like a blade, slicing into the root layer then slashing vigorously from side to side with a deft twist that turns the ground over. Our fascination turned to alarm as we wondered about the plants – roots that weren’t eaten were severed, mashed, turned up to the sky.
On a more recent visit there was still much bare ground (burrowing bees were already making use of it) but then there is still some spring to go in this late season. And, all higgledy-piggledy, the plants were pushing through. Bluebells – buds still cowering in a shawl of leaves – were poking out sideways from upturned clods. Wood sorrel was already in flower, foxgloves and pignut spreading their leaves across the hog-shaken ground. Pignut (surely a piggy favourite) is a member of the carrot family with a swollen root that was a tasty snack of my parents’ childhood (though hard to dig out with mere human tools). The shaded swathes of bluebells were largely untouched – the boar prefer to dig in grassier clearings. Unfortunately this preference for grassy areas brings them into conflict with human inhabitants of the forest, who, like most of us, tend to prefer their lawns and recreation grounds to remain unploughed.
It is not hard to imagine the damage that could be done by repeated foraging in a limited area, especially to favoured food-plants. But here the woodland plants had surmounted the onslaught. Wild boar may have only relatively recently been reintroduced to the forest but, blindly guided by evolution, these tough little plants were showing their mettle.