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Fears for rare pigs if African swine fever hits Forest of Dean wild boar

There are fears these rare pigs could be at risk from African swine fever. Credit: ITV West Country

There are fears that African swine fever could hit the wild boar population in the Forest of Dean and then spread to other animals in the region.

It comes as the Forestry Commission brings in extra marksmen to cull the growing population of wild boar.

Richard Vaughan is concerned that his pigs could pick up the virus if it gets into the local wild boar population Credit: ITV West Country

Pig farmer Richard Vaughan lives on the edge of the Forest of Dean and fears for his herd of middle white pigs. They are an endangered breed and much prized by top chefs. They are so rare that fewer than 250 exist in this country - he probably has half the population - and they could be wiped out if the virus takes hold.

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It's a very bad disease. It kills pigs stone dead within ten days. There's no treatment, nothing you can do. The only thing governments can do is draw a circle around an infected herd and kill everything within it. If that happened in the Forest of Dean boar population we'd get taken out and that would be it. Disaster.

– Richard Vaughan, Pig breeder
Wild boars in the Forest of Dean could be vulnerable to the virus. Credit: ITV West Country

African swine fever is highly contagious and has slowly worked its way into Europe, where it has infected wild boar and domestic pig herds.

The Forest of Dean has - it is estimated - more than a thousand wild boar but in truth no one knows the exact number, despite attempts at counting them.

There is an annual cull of boar carried out by experienced wildlife rangers, but the Forestry Commission says that it is increasing the number of rangers in the Forest of Dean from four to six to bring them under more control.

There are concerns that the wild boar could contract the disease from infected pork products left behind after picnics and barbecues.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is asking visitors and local residents to ensure that any waste food is disposed of securely to minimise the risk.

Experts confirm that this is the most likely way that the disease - which has such devastating consequences - is spread.

The feeding of pork products to pigs or wild boar - so either direct feeding or leaving in the countryside - is the most likely way that the disease is going to affect pigs or wild boar in the UK. If that happens there would be a disastrous impact on the pig industry and on the livelihood of farmers and those involved in the pig trade and the welfare of pigs.

– Dr Linda Dixon, The Pirbright Institute