Posts Tagged ‘rewilding’

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…)

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 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…)

Rewilding the Pyrenees: news about bears

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017


Last Saturday I went to a meeting of farmers, politicians and officials called to discuss the effect of bears on sheep farming in the Pyrenees. There are now about forty brown bears in the massif following two waves of reintroductions over the last twenty years. Their presence is still controversial, particularly in Ariège where the meeting was held. Ensauvagement, rewilding, is a dirty word in some quarters.

To my mind, there were two significant developments at the meeting which went by the name of the États-Généraux du Pastoralisme. One was the announcement of a scientific investigation into whether the government-recommended measures to protect livestock really are useful. And the second was the President of the Ariège council’s announcement that he could envisage, albeit reluctantly, that the bears are here to stay.


The famous video in which a group of armed men dressed in balaclavas threaten to “restart bear-hunting in Ariege”


The discussions started in the morning but it wasn’t until the Prefect [the government official responsible for overseeing the department] had left that things started to heat up. During the final plenary session, a man who had just arrived asked for the microphone. He grabbed the attention of the audience by mentioning “the famous video that you have all seen, with the guns” and then went on to say that bears had no place in the Pyrenees. The audience clapped and a few minutes later he left. For him, that was all there was to it.


Crying wolf?

Monday, December 11th, 2017
Wolves in the Maison des Loup, Orlu, Ariège

Wolves in the Maison des Loups, Orlu, Ariège


Are too many wolves being culled in France? Or not enough? Ecological associations here are taking the government to court, demanding that it changes its policy on culling. Up to 36 can be killed each year if they repeatedly attack sheep. The associations want the government to take the (relatively low) total wolf population into account and reduce the number of wolves killed. But, as a recent demonstration showed, some farmers in the Pyrenees are unhappy about predators and don’t want any more. (more…)

Anti-bear group softens its stance on reintroductions

Thursday, September 14th, 2017
European brown bear

European brown bear (photo: © Francis C. Franklin, Wikipedia)


The ASPAP* is no longer demanding that bears be removed from the Pyrenees. The association, set up in January 2006 to protest at the second wave of reintroductions of bears from Slovenia, had been unwavering in its stance. But despite the recent loss of 209 sheep following an attack in the high Ariège it has now has officially changed its stance.


A new way of walking in the Pyrenees. On the Senda de Camille

Sunday, August 20th, 2017
Lescun with Pic d'Ansabère in the background

Lescun with Pic d’Ansabère in the background


Do you prefer walking in a straight line or going round in circles? Until recently most of the long-distance treks in the Pyrenees were linear. The big three, the Pyrenean Way (GR10), the Spanish Senda Pirenaica (GR11) and the Pyrenean Haute Route (HRP), which have been around for over 30 years, all stretch from coast to coast. Then came other trails like the Cathar Trail and the Chemin des Bonshommes. All linear trails, at least in principle.

But if you wanted to walk in circles, ending up where you started, you more-or-less had to plan it yourself. In recent years this has changed. The FFRP (French Ramblers Association) has brought out a guide to circular cross-frontier walks in the eastern Pyrenees (Ariège, Pyrénées-Orientales). And Brian Johnson is working on a guide to circular walks for Cicerone.

But perhaps the most interesting initiatives have come from Spain.

They are all circular walks with nights in staffed hostels. Most importantly they offer central booking facilities. You also get a dedicated map (1:25,000) and a souvenir tee-shirt.

I’ve just come back from walking the Senda de Camille with two friends. It was great!


My Senda de Camille. Click to see on Wikiloc

My Senda de Camille. Click to see on Wikiloc


On bears and sheep in the Pyrenees, 2016

Friday, October 7th, 2016
Estive at the Cabane de Gourge Sec on the Pyrenean Haute Route near Somport

Estive at the Cabane de Gourge Sec on the Pyrenean Haute Route near Somport


The provisional figures for bear attacks in France this year (up to 31 August 2016) have just been released. Despite the optimistic gloss of the text of the report, the figures tell a different story. (more…)

Bear Mountain by Mick Webb: a review

Thursday, June 9th, 2016
Bear Mountain by Mick Webb

Bear Mountain by Mick Webb

Bears are a contentious subject in the Pyrenean Mountains and Mick Webb’s short book Bear Mountain explains why.

Despite sometimes violent protests, bears been reintroduced to the Pyrenees in 1996-7, 2006 and 2016 saving a relict population from extinction. There are lessons here for Britain where rewilding exponent George Monbiot (Feral ) gives their acceptability a low 3/10.

Bear Mountain covers all the issues, the story following Mick Webb’s researches, travelling in the French Pyrenees. It is an easy, enjoyable read for such a complex subject. Although he fails in his quixotic search to see the animal he does meet some of the main human protagonists in the conflict. Ultimately he comes down on the side of continuing reintroductions but he gives the opponents a fair chance to explain their problems in adapting livestock raising to cope with the new situation and their consequent rejection.

The only aspect which would now deserve a more extensive treatment is the influence of Christianity (and other religions) on the way bears have been viewed. The Ariège Departmental Archives have recently brought out L’Homme et l’Animal Sauvage. This book includes a section on senefiance: religions have frequently supposed that animals have moral significance for the instruction of humanity (foxes are cunning, owls wise). Bears signified masculinity XXX, evidently not to the taste of the Catholic Church.


map of GR10

site designed by Archétype Informatique: création de site internet, Narbonne