Very few British shooters venture to mainland Europe to go boar hunting, but those that do and indeed others who may be hunting other game in areas where boar are to be found – and that means more or less everywhere from the Adriatic in the south to the Scandinavian countries in the north and Russia in the east – need to be especially careful about cleaning their gear before returning home. The reason comes in the shape of African Swine Fever which is devastating wild boar populations continent-wide and has now reached the Channel following the discovery of an outbreak in Belgium. The risk that the disease poses to the animals of commercial pig farmers is phenomenal. This is a disease which has no cure and cannot be vaccinated against. Those few animals that survive it go on to re-infect others, because unlike many other infections, the survivors do not produce protective antibodies. Like another appalling killer, Anthrax, the virus can lay dormant in the soil for years only to spring alive again when conditions are right for it to do so. Left to its own devices the one saving grace about the disease, its slow spread, does allow for a glimmer of optimism, but even this has been snuffed out by that old familiar vector of human intervention, which has provided the only possible explanation behind the outbreak in Belgium, some 800 miles from where the nearest previous reported outbreak of the disease was made a year earlier.
The consequences for British pig farmers, should the disease arrive here, will be devastating. Like Belgium the UK is densely populated with wild boar often living close to urban areas and because many UK pig herds are kept outside, rather than indoors on concrete as they are in many European countries, the chances of an epidemic are greatly increased.
It is of concern that the Defra website, whilst offering advice on how to recognise the disease and what to do thereafter, does not warn shooters and others who might travel to the affected areas, about the need to take simple precautions – cleaning mud and detritus off shooting gear and clothing – before returning home. And what applies to Defra also applies the Foreign Office, BASC and the Countryside Alliance, all of which can contribute to keeping this terrible disease at bay.