Denmark has begun building a 70-kilometre anti-pig fence costing €10.52 million, in hopes of arresting the spread of African swine fever.
The fence, spanning the border between Denmark and Germany, is due for completion later this year and was devised as a solution to the threat posed by wild boars carrying the disease to Denmark’s €4 billion pork industry. Cases of African swine fever have been detected in Poland, Czechia, Hungary, Belgium and the Baltic states since 2018; and while no cases have yet been found in Germany, authorities are concerned about the high risk of the disease spreading. While the fever has no ill effects on humans, it is fatal to pigs and there is no vaccine or cure. When an outbreak hit Lithuania in 2014, farms had to cull their entire swine stocks if even one pig became ill.
In order to allow free movement of other wildlife, the anti-boar fence will be 1.5 metres tall – so deer can jump over it – with periodic gaps of 20 cm square along the base, so smaller animals can move through it. It will feature gates every kilometre and steps at intermittent points so humans are able to pass through or over the fence.
The fence will be supported by other solutions to deter potential carriers of African swine fever, including game cameras, extended hunting permits for wild boar and public education campaigns. Meanwhile the Danish government has launched a large-scale four-day preparedness exercise to confirm the country is appropriately equipped to withstand a potential outbreak of the disease; and fines have risen for offences which could increase the risk of contagion, such as failing to effectively clean or disinfect animal transport vehicles.
Environmental and wildlife activists, including Denmark’s branch of the World Wildlife Fund, have called attention to the fence’s impact on the protected wild wolf, whose migration patterns may be impaired by the fence. Conservationists further noted that the fence is by no means guaranteed to keep out boars, which could feasibly pass between Denmark and Germany at any of the gaps in the fence occasioned by existing roads, paths or rivers; and that the government’s determination to address the risk of African swine fever by constructing a fence may be a concession to anti-immigration, rightwing voters.
Hans Kristensen, a Danish forest engineer and hunter, said: “What we’re trying to do here, politically, is to build a fence in order to feel safe. The problem with feeling safer is that it comes at a cost. The cost is nature and the cost is the neighbourhood [relations] between Denmark and Germany. We create problems that we don’t have to. We shouldn’t try to make a solution just for Denmark: this is a problem all across Europe and we have to make a solution that includes Europe instead of excluding [it].”