Berlin calls in marksmen to stop pitch invaders' boarish behaviour

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The Independent Online

Squads of green uniformed marksmen are patrolling the forests around Berlin with explicit orders to shoot football boars on sight.

The problem hit crisis point this week when at least five of the German capital's huge population of wild pigs staged an overnight raid on the manicured and fastidiously watered training pitches of Hertha Berlin football club.

The animals broke through a steel security fence surrounding the grounds, which were built for Nazi Germany's 1936 Olympic Games, and churned up the pitches with their snouts. Their calling card was a trail of excrement.

Hertha Berlin were nonplussed. "Not even the unruliest football hooligan goes this far," said Robert Burkhardt, the club's spokesman. "We have informed the city's forestry department and they have dispatched hunters to deal with the problem. The older boars who do the damage will be culled in the process."

Wild boar damage is not new in Berlin. Residents who live close to the Grunewald forest near Hertha's grounds complain repeatedly about the vandalism caused by boars invading their gardens.

The city's forestry department is unable to give an accurate estimate of the size of the boar population, which runs into several thousand. But it says the city is suffering from a boar population explosion and the dry summer has made worm-rich areas such as watered football pitches a natural target for the animals.

Marc Franusch, a forestry spokesman, said: "A combination of warm winters and the ready food supply available in residents' gardens has led to a rapid increase in the size of the wild boar population. The animals have lost their natural shyness towards people because they live so close to the city." More alarming is the fact that wild boars turn aggressive during their breeding season. With their natural predator, the wolf, still rare in Germany, the city authorities have dealt with the problem by dispatching hunters to cull older pigs each winter.

Hertha thought they had taken sufficient precautions to cope with the problem. The club has spent thousands on erecting steel fencing, which extends a metre underground in an attempt to stop boars tunnelling their way underneath.

Mr Burkhardt said: "The fencing was not strong enough to cope with the boars. There were five big holes pushed through it. British clubs are lucky not to have this problem - I believe England's wild pig population started to decline about the time of William the Conqueror."

Hertha finished fifth in the Bundesliga last season, but have disappointed so far this year, taking only two points from three games.