I READ an interesting article recently suggesting that part of ‘rewilding’ an area of bog and forest in the Nephin Beg mountains in northwest Mayo would be a suitable place for boar and wolves to be reintroduced, writes Tom Gillespie.
The article was prompted by the fact that Irish hunters are releasing pigs into the wild in an effort to establish a population that can be killed for sport.
Tom O’Connor, from the New Zealand city of Timaru, wrote to The Times Ireland saying that he had been told by an Athlone resident that hunters were attempting to establish a wild boar population.
"Domestic pigs of any breed will revert to feral phenotype in just a few generations over probably less than two decades," he said. "The corpulent docile porker becomes a muscular, lean, hairy and very aggressive wild boar. They will, however, retain much of their domestic heritage, making them bigger and much more dangerous than their ancient ancestors."
Further in the article, Pádraic Fogarty, a campaign officer for the Irish Wildlife Trust, said that a population of wild boar could be safely managed in suitable areas of the country.
He said that while releasing the animals was illegal, this had been carried out by hunters for a number of years.
Mr. Fogarty said that the Wild Nephin project, launched in 2013 to ‘rewild’ an area in the wild Nephin Beg mountains, would be a suitable place for boar and wolves to breed once more.
Despite being historically native to Ireland, wild boar are classed as an invasive species and are shot by authorities when sightings are reported. There have been 47 sightings of groups or individual wild boar since 2009, with four last year, including three roaming the Wicklow mountains, according to the National Biodiversity Data Centre. Some are likely to have escaped from farms.
But it should be remembered these wild animals roamed Ireland in the past and in Mayo, Inishturk Island - Inis Toirc in Irish - means Wild Boar Island.
Mr. Fogarty said that farmers and other local residents generally react with concern when ‘rewilding’ projects include predators but that recent examples, such as the Irish sea eagle, showed that there was little danger to farming stock if the populations were correctly managed.
He said: "It is all about public perception. The eagle has had some success because farmers saw that there was little danger so it is no longer being demonised. With wolves, it is also about getting over what is in people’s heads."
Coillte, in association with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Mayo County Council, are undertaking Ireland’s first wilderness project. It will see 11,000 hectares of bog, lake and forestry surrounding the Nephin Beg mountain range transformed into a dedicated wilderness.
In a world of ever expanding infrastructure and urbanisation, the Nephin Beg mountain range is an area still void of such development, making it an ideal location for a project of this nature to be launched.
The Wild Nephin website states: "Our aim is to give people the chance to reignite this connection to their ancient past by experiencing nature in all its glory, in a place where nature is the driving force and where plants, animals and their habitats are untainted by human interference."
Prior to the purchase by the State, the national park lands were used for turbary, agriculture and recreational uses including fishing, shooting and hillwalking.
There is evidence of previous human habitation along the Bangor Trail, near the Owenduff and Tarsaghaun rivers, where the remains of stone buildings and traditional cultivation ridges can be seen.
People have fished and hunted game in the area for a long period. Fishing and hunting lodges, still present outside of the park, were bases for these activities.
Native red deer, which formerly roamed the Nephin Beg Mountains, were one of the species hunted.
The Bangor Trail itself has a long history and may date back to the 16th century. Landlords were responsible for the maintenance of sections of the trail that passed through their land.
The trail was used as the main route for people and livestock before the introduction of modern roads between the Bangor Erris region and Newport. Emigrants travelling from Bangor Erris to Westport would have used this trail.
I have only tracked about eight miles of the Bangor Trail from Bangor Erris. It is a wilderness of immense beauty and solitude and devoid of any human trace.
Likewise, I have been to Ballycroy National Park, which is part of the Wild Nephin region, and a location I highly recommend you should visit.
Glacial activity over the past 2.5 million years has created some of the most scenic features of the national park. These include the many corrie lakes such as Corryloughaphuill Lough. Glacial boulder clay, found at the southern edge of the Nephin beg mountain range, is further evidence of glacial activity.
The diversity of wildlife in the park is outstanding, even without the reintroduction of wild boar or wolves.
It boasts golden plover, merlin, peregrine, red grouse and Greenland white fronted geese.
Plant life includes ivy-leaved bellflower, marsh saxifrage, shining sickle moss, while the incidence of mammals include otter, the Irish hare, red deer and badger, while salmon also spawn in shallow gravel beds in rivers within the national park.
I don’t believe I will live to see the reintroduction of wild boar or wolves to this part of the country but hopefully my children, grandchildren and great-grand-daughter will have the pleasure.
* Read Tom Gillespie's 'A Mayo Outlook' column column every Tuesday in our print edition