FARMERS are calling on the Scottish Government to urgently formulate a policy to deal with Scotland’s population of feral pigs.

According to NatureScot, wild boar were hunted to extinction in the country around 700 years ago.

However, since the 1990s new populations have established themselves after escaping from farms or being illegally reintroduced.

The boar can interbreed with escaped domesticated pigs, creating hybrid populations that have caused havoc in other parts of the world.

In the USA – where the species is not native – the damage caused by the creatures each year is estimated to cost more than $2 billion.

There are so many feral pigs in Texas that commercial helicopter hog-hunting enterprises have sprung up, with punters able to shoot pigs with machine guns from a moving aircraft.

Now, farmers in Scotland say that the Government’s failure to act is becoming perilous for their businesses.

The National: NFUS pigs chair, Jamie Wyllie reminds us of the threat we need to be talking about - African Swine FeverNFUS pigs chair, Jamie Wyllie reminds us of the threat we need to be talking about - African Swine Fever

Jamie Wyllie, chair of the National Farmers Union of Scotland’s pig committee, said: “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.”

There are at least two populations of feral pigs breeding in Scotland: one in Dumfries and another in Lochaber.

However, other populations around the village of Cawdor near Inverness and Blairgowrie in Perthshire may also have become self-sustaining.

At low densities, the presence of pigs in the wild is ecologically beneficial.

Their rooting behaviour disturbs static ecosystems and encourages greater diversity of plant and insect species.

Yet while in the past wolves and lynx would have predated on the species in the UK, humans are now their only predator.

This, according to NFU Scotland, creates the potential for their numbers to explode beyond sustainable numbers.

As well as causing damage to agricultural land feral pigs can be potential vectors of disease.

In Germany, more than 1000 wild boar have succumbed to African swine fever and authorities have created zones where all wild boar are shot in order to protect domesticated populations of pigs.

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Wyllie is calling on the Scottish Government to act before it is too late.

He said: “[The] 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.

“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.”

However, not all landowners take such a condemnatory stance on the species.

Highlands Rewilding, which owns the Bunloit estate on the shores of Loch Ness, said that data should lead the approach of the government when it comes to dealing with feral pigs.

“There are wild boar present at Bunloit estate and the surrounding area (they’ve been there long before Highlands Rewilding).

“At Highlands Rewilding, we recognise both the biodiversity benefits that can arise from these ecosystem engineers and the potential issues they can cause.

“Our approach at the moment is to monitor the population as much as we can so that any management decision making can be based on that data.

“We will also be working with NatureScot on the monitoring methods we use. At the moment, this is done through a network of camera traps but there are potential options to increase our monitoring efforts with help from Nature Scot.”

Still, both environmentalists and farmers agree that doing nothing is no longer an option. As Peter Cairns, executive director of rewilding charity SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, told the Sunday National: “Wild boar are a native species that can provide significant ecological benefit, as well as being a healthy, sustainable food source.

“The Scottish Government is long overdue in formulating a plan for the species’ future in Scotland.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “The Scottish Government fully understands the threats posed by illegally released feral pigs, and their impact on agriculture.

“It is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act to release any type of pig, including wild boar, and it is also an offence to allow them to escape from captivity.

“The primary responsibility for controlling feral pig populations in the wild lies with individual land managers and anyone who has concerns over feral pigs should, in the first instance, contact NatureScot who will be able to provide advice.

“We are working closely with NatureScot to determine the level of risk posed by the currently low numbers of feral pigs and boar to domestic pig populations in certain areas of Scotland.”