THE biggest cull of wild boar in the Forest of Dean to date is underway.

Six rangers employed by the Forestry Commission have the target of culling 712 wild boar between 1st September 2016 and spring 2017.

The Forestry Commission says the cull is needed to stabilise the population, with the target population being 400 wild boar.

For the last two years, population estimates have been made at night during March and April with the use of thermal imagery technology. The survey estimated the population of wild boar in the Forest of Dean in 2015 to be 1,018, but even after a subsequent cull of 522 animals, the population was estimated to have reached 1,562 in 2016.

Community group Friends of the Boar have questioned the accuracy of the population estimates and the need for a cull.

A spokesperson said: “The culling target won’t be achieved because of the simple fact that there is not that amount of wild boar in the Forest of Dean.

“The population of wild boar has a natural capacity based on food and shelter. This cull is based on scientific fantasy, and is counter-productive as more births are promoted the more they kill.”

There have even been claims from those protesting the ban that financial benefits from sales of boar carcasses is influencing the cull.

In an update to the Forest of Dean District Council (FODDC) in September 2016, the Forestry Commission explained that the income from the sales of wild boar carcasses into the human food chain for 2015/16 was £42,595. Wild boar are not currently listed under game legislation and there are no formalised legal requirements covering the use of firearms or a closed season.

A report by the Forestry Commission in 2016 addresses the potential that the 2015 survey was underestimated and the 2016 survey was overestimated, explaining how it was “carried out by inexperienced field teams and improvements should be possible with experience.”

A spokesperson for the Forestry Commission said: “We have six professional wildlife rangers deployed on this season’s cull of boar on the public forest estate.

“In line with previous years, details of this season’s cull will be released on completion of the cull later in the spring. In line with previous years, we aim to re-run the thermal imaging survey on the public forest estate in the coming months.

“The data gleaned from the thermal imaging survey will be used to inform our subsequent plans.”

Wild boar had not roamed freely in the Forest of Dean for hundreds of years, until a mass breakout from a farm near Ross-on-Wye in the 1990s.

In 2004, around 60 farm-reared wild boar were illegally released near the village of Staunton, and it is thought that the two fugitive groups then merged.