Posts Tagged ‘rewilding’

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…)

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

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…)

Bears in the Pyrenees: the official report for 2017

Sunday, May 13th, 2018
Bear cub. Photo: Djo

Bear cub . Photo: Djo

 

The French Réseau Ours Brun (Brown Bear Network) has released its annual report [summary at end in English]. There are now officially 43 bears in the Pyrenees, spread over an area of 5,000km2 in two separate zones. 41 live in the central zone (up 2 from 2016) and 2 in the western zone. With ten adult females now present, there should be more cubs this year. (more…)

Two new bears in Pyrenean rewilding initiative

Thursday, March 29th, 2018
Bear cub [photo: DJO photo]

Bear cub in Slovenia, source of the reintroductions [photo: DJO photo]

 

I have been talking to both sides in the conflict between ecologists and anti-bear shepherds. So, the announcement on 26 March came as no surprise.

“I wish to arrange for the reintroduction of two female bears in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques [western Pyrenees] in autumn. I will ask the Prefect to organize discussions so that the reintroduction is successful,” said Nicolas Hulot, French environment minister.

France signed the Bern Convention in 1979, and the 1992 EU Habitats Directive reinforced its commitment to restoring the bear population. Two waves of arrivals, in 1996/7 and 2006, saw eight bears transplanted from Slovenia; the population here has now reached forty. But it is plagued by inbreeding, and the two male bears in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department are isolated from the main group. This is where the females will set up home.

Alain Reynes, president of the pro-bear Pays de l’Ours told me: “It’s good news but the real good news will be when they arrive. We need to work to make it happen.” As he points out, in 2010 the environment minister Chantal Jouanno proposed to release a bear to replace Franska, killed in a road accident. But nothing came of the idea.

On the other side of the equation, when asked for his reaction, Philippe Lacube, one of the major figures battling against reintroductions, commented: “It’s astonishing, because we were promised a coordinating committee. But instead of sending us two officials they’re sending us two bears!”

 

Dead sheep after an attack in the Orlu valley

Dead sheep after an attack in the Orlu valley

 

Earlier I had talked to Gisèle Gouazé, president of the cooperative that lost the 209 sheep last summer.

“Generations and generations of people have cleared that mountain and have maintained it. Where are we heading now?” she asked.

See also

bear footprint seen in Pyrenees

Bear footprint seen in Ariège, French Pyrenees [photo: Catherine Brunet]

A serious situation

Sunday, February 11th, 2018
Gisèle Gouazé with part of the flock grazing on their winter pasture in Betchet

Gisèle Gouazé with part of the flock grazing on their winter pasture in Betchat

 

Early last June [2017] 838 sheep went up to their estive (summer pastures) near Mont Rouch as they do every year. But, despite the presence of a shepherd living with them on the mountain, nearly half of them didn’t return. The reason? Bears. (more…)

map of GR10

 
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