Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The return of the wolf to France: what shepherds say

Monday, June 1st, 2020
Wolf at La Maison des Loups, Orlu, Ariège

Wolf at La Maison des Loups, Orlu, Ariège

 

The reintroduction of wolves changes the behaviour of herbivores, killing the weakest and sickest. The healthy ones move to safer zones. The landscape evolves. So what would happen if wolves returned to Britain? Putting aside the ecological interest, what would be their impact on the profession most affected, sheep farming? How would shepherds cope?

All you need in order to protect a flock of sheep is a livestock guardian dog (LGD). The shepherd must keep the flock together during the day, and round the sheep up into a pen at night. That’s the theory. So how does this work in practice here in France where we have gone from no wolves in 1992 to 530 today?

I’ve interviewed many farmers about rewilding. When it comes to wolves, unsurprisingly most don’t want them. But there are nuances: here are three opinions.

Matilde is from a sheep-farming family in the Alps and has learnt how to cope. Olivier, also from a pastoral background, lives in the Massif Central. He has no sympathy for rewilding. Maxime is a newcomer to the Pyrenees and to sheep farming. He is quite happy with the return of bears but doesn’t see a place for wolves. (more…)

The return of the Pyrenean ibex: hunters as key stakeholders

Sunday, May 24th, 2020
Pyrenean ibex (capra pirenaica pirenaica)

Plate 22 (Spanish Tur) from Richard Lydecker (1898) Wild oxen, sheep and goats of all lands, living and extinct. Based on a sketch by Joseph Wolf in the possession of Lady Brooke.

Pyrenean Ibex Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica – bouquetin (fr) – bucardo or cabra montes (sp) – herc (cat)

Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica, the Pyrenean ibex, is the only (sub)-species to have gone extinct twice. The first time on 6 January 2000 and the second time on 30 July 2003. Despite this double-barrelled failure, another subspecies of Iberian ibex (Capra pyrenaica victoriae) is now thriving in the Pyrenees following reintroduction. Hunters’ attitudes and hunters’ money have played a big part on both sides of the equation. (more…)

The end of the Big Sleep

Sunday, May 17th, 2020
Marmots in Catalonia

Marmot Marmota marmota – marmotte (fr) – marmota (sp, cat)

One of the earliest rewilding initiatives – and by far the most successful – was the work of two locals, Antoine Knobel and Jean-Marie Sabatut, and an avid hunter. The Pyrenean marmot woke up from its ten-thousand-year hibernation on 15 May 1948, in the Barrada valley near Gavarnie. There are now ten thousand marmots gamboling in the prairies above 1400m.

The marmot’s warning whistle has become, like the tinkling of sheep bells, an audible emblem of the mountains. Guided by the sound, walkers’ heads turn to catch a fleeting glimpse of a nose in the air, swiftly followed by the sight a tail disappearing down a burrow. In the more frequented areas of the mountains, marmots can be observed at close quarters. Near Gavarnie, the less timid ones will demand a toll. (more…)

Eager for beavers?

Saturday, May 16th, 2020
beaver

Eurasian beaver Castor fiber – castor d’Europe (fr) – castor (sp, cat) by Andrea Bohl from Pixabay

 

In Britain, there is a huge surge of interest in beavers. Ecologists like Derek Gow have been promoting their reintroduction through projects in Devon and Tayside.  Gow sees the rodents as a game-changing boost for biodiversity, with their dams remodelling landscapes and helping to reduce flooding.

Beavers have also returned to the Pyrenees, after more than 150 years of absence. But here, conservationists are divided. The Spanish have been trying to exterminate them; the French have been encouraging them. (more…)

Three wolves, three shepherds

Friday, October 25th, 2019
[photo: wolf in sheep’s clothing, free and rebellious. Advert for a restaurant specialising in sheep’s cheese in Rocca Calascio, Gran Sasso, Italy

Wolf in sheep’s clothing, free and rebellious. Advert for a restaurant specialising in sheep’s cheese in Rocca Calascio, Abruzzo, Italy

 

Advocates of hard rewilding say that in Abruzzo wolves and sheep live happily together. But do they? It all depends. As in the Pyrenees, shepherds’ experiences vary: some are happier than others. Paulo was once attacked by wolves. Antonio and Lucia suffer heavy losses. But Giulio runs a very successful farm. (more…)

Not as peaceful as it seems

Saturday, July 13th, 2019
Port de Saleix, at 1800m above sea level on the GR10, looking east towards Saleix

Port de Saleix, at 1800m above sea level on the GR10 between Aulus and Marc, looking east

 

Two hours hard walking from the village of Saleix, Ariège, the rendezvous for the latest meeting of the anti-bear ASPAP was not an obvious choice. But as Philippe Lacube, one of the historic leaders of the movement and now President of the Ariège Chamber of Agriculture, explained:

“We could have gone to the streets of Foix or Toulouse. We preferred being in our mountains. We preferred being on our soil, at home; because, I think, it is this land we need to retake control of.”

These farmers, shepherds, mayors and supporters have had enough and believe the French state is not listening.

(more…)

Rewilding: with sheep, by hunters

Thursday, May 16th, 2019
Mouflon

Mouflon. The principal distinguishing characteristic of the male mouflon is its long, curved horns (in females the horns are absent or smaller) © Laurence Terminet

 

The sheep isn’t the first species that comes to mind when I think of ‘rewilding’. It seems unlikely that the idea of rewilding with sheep will warm George Monbiot’s heart 😉, given his views on the animal’s ecological hoofprint. But an ancient variety of sheep, the mouflon, present in the French Pyrenees in the Pleistocene, has been reintroduced: by hunters who were not in the least interested in the idea of rewilding. Indeed, they started the project in 1957 before the term ‘rewilding’ even existed. Yet, if there were more mouflons, they could become a food resource for the more charismatic brown bears and wolves currently preying on domestic flocks. Even shepherds – traditionally opponents of rewilding – might find some solace. (more…)

The once and future king?

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019

Bear cub [photo: DJO photo]

 

For anyone interested in the cultural side of rewilding, I can recommend Michel Pastoureau’s excellent book.[1] It charts the Western European perception of bears from the earliest records to the present. A renowned French historian, Pastoureau has written on heraldry, animals and, notably, on colours. But the strength of his book on bears is its focus on the how the animal fell from grace.

His thesis is that when the Christian Church started to expand into northern Europe, it found itself confronted with powerful pagan bear cults. The elimination of the cults took nearly a millennium, culminating in the 13th century when the king of the forest was symbolically replaced by the king of the jungle: the lion. (more…)

How dangerous are wild boar? Notes from France

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018
Young wild boar also known as humbugs © Laurence Terminet

Young wild boar also known as humbugs © Laurence Terminet

The National Trust has recently announced that it intends to kill the wild boars living on its Stourhead estate because of public safety fears. Yet, rewilding advocates claim that they are not dangerous. With a wild boar population of 1635 in the Forest of Dean, another concentration in the Weald and sightings all over Great Britain, the debate is likely to continue.

So how dangerous are wild boar? In Britain there are a few thousand; in France we have two million of them.  Here in France, despite the human fatalities – almost exclusively hunting and road traffic accidents – despite their potential for virus transmission, despite the crop damage, they are considered no more dangerous than large dogs. Why?

Extract from work in progress The Implausible Rewilding of the Pyrenees: Notes for Britain

Wild boar are already half-way up the gangplank of the Ark of British rewilding. Although beavers are currently making a bid for the lead, wild boars have already shouldered their way past lynx and wolves.

There are two million wild boar in France, a figure that has been increasing, partly as a result of milder winters. [source] With so many around, walkers regularly come across signs of them: hoofprints in mud; grass grubbed up for edible roots; a missing patch of bark on trees where they have rubbed to get rid of parasites. Hiking in forest, I am sometimes startled by a rustling in the undergrowth. It is followed by an offended grunt and then a wild crashing as the boar storms away, breaking through fallen branches. The cascade of sound increases as birds take to the wing and repeat the alarm. But I’ve only actually seen wild boar close too occasionally, always at dusk, when they are out searching for their evening meal. The last time, illuminated by my car headlights, a big sow was crossing the road. She was followed by three smaller females and a string of youngsters, identifiable by their horizontal brown and gold stripes, bobbing along behind. Difficult to say how many youngsters, six-seven-eight; I braked as they disappeared into a vineyard. Seeing them innocently crossing the road added a touch of magic to my evening, particularly as I managed to brake early enough for them to get away. (more…)

Global warning from the Pyrenees

Saturday, September 1st, 2018
The Ossoue glacier (on the East side of Vignemale) is melting rapidly

The Ossoue glacier (on the East side of Vignemale) is melting rapidly. Click to enlarge photo.

 

I climbed the Pique longue du Vignemale (3298m) and its little brother, Petit Vignemale (3032m), with two friends this week. When I arrived home, I compared the pictures taken from the Petit Vignemale with those I took 13 years ago when I was walking the GR10. The Ossoue glacier is melting rapidly and is now a hundred metres shorter (click on photo to enlarge).

The top photo was taken in July 2005, with the arrow showing a group of walkers just about to descend the tongue of the glacier (grey). The second photo was taken on 29 August 2018. There is more snow after the hard winter of 2017/2018 but the glacier has gone.

Another view of the Ossoue glacier, taken the next day from the Lac des Gentianes. The Bayssellance hostel, where we stayed for two nights, is below the pass, slightly to the right. The Petit Vignemale is the white rock behind the lake; the Pique longue is the highest summit behind it.

When Anne Lister climbed the Grande Vignemale in 1838, the first ‘outsider’ to do so, she would have seen the glacier stretching right down into the valley.

map of GR10

 
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