AFRICAN Swine Fever could create as great a disaster as the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak if it gets into the Forest of Dean wild boar population, say experts.

The highly infectious and invariably fatal virus is now reported to have spread into Belgium and it is feared that it could easily make the short hop across the channel and spread like wildfire among British herds.

Pig farmers and officials at the National Pig Association are calling on the Forestry Commission to step of its culling programme to bring wild boar numbers down to manageable levels.

Richard Vaughan, a pig farmer at Huntsham Court Farm near Symonds Yat said his herd of Middle White pigs is one of the biggest in the country.

He said: “Middle Whites are a very rare breed. We have got roughly half the UK entire herd.

“If African Swine Fever got into the herd It would mean the whole herd would be taken out. England would lose half of the entire genetic pool of this wonderful and rare pig.

“African Swine Fever is a very rapid killer. There is no prevention, no cure, nothing. If it gets in, you have disaster.”

Mr Vaughan said the wild boar population is out of control.

“We are constantly being invaded by them. The feral pigs we have got which were dumped in the Forest of Dean ten years ago and the numbers have exploded.

“It is not a case of eliminating them, it is a question of sensible management.”

“It has got to happen before the disease arrives. It has got to be pre-emptive.”