Posts Tagged ‘wolf’

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…)

Rewilding: with sheep, by hunters

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

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…)

Humans and farm animals: the moral contract

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

Mouflon in the Massif Central


We are talking about sheep and bears in the Pyrenees when Alain Reynes, director of the pro-bear organization Pays de l’Ours tackles a broader concept.

“What is a domesticated animal?” he asks. It is a rhetorical question. “The sheep’s ancestor was the Asiatic mouflon. What happens is that you take a wild animal that is capable of living in natural surroundings. You domesticate it, increasing its productivity. But at the same time, you reduce its ability to live in the wild, to escape predators and resist diseases. The moral contract between the animal and humans is that we assure its food, take care of it when ill, and protect it. In exchange, the energy that the animal has saved from not having to escape from predators, not needing to fight diseases, and looking for food – all that energy – will be transferred to us humans in the form of meat, wool, or work. That’s the contract. When one has domesticated animals, which by their nature are under our protection, and one lets them loose on the mountains they can’t cope. They are very vulnerable. If we don’t protect them, we are breaking the contract.”


Sheep and lamb in the Pyrénées

Sheep and lamb in the Pyrénées


The question being debated in the Pyrenees at present is how to protect them from bears and wolves. How exactly should we fulfil our part of the contract?

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…)

Footprints on the mountains… the news from the Pyrenees

Monday, May 2nd, 2016
Footprints on the mountains... the news from the Pyrenees

Footprints on the mountains… the news from the Pyrenees

My new book on the Pyrenees and walking

From the back cover: The Pyrenees are by turns beautifully natural and bleakly austere; shaped by centuries of labour… and scarred by human suffering. In the valleys, Steve talks to locals and meets an eccentric cast of hikers. But on the heights he is alone with marmottes and sarrios. He listens to protagonists on both sides of the argument over the reintroduction of bears. And goes searching for ibex imported as part of a rewilding programme.

Sario (Spanish) or isard (French), a common sight in the Pyrenees

Sario (Spanish) or isard (French), a common sight in the Pyrenees


My new book on the Pyrenees is about to be published. This time I’ve been walking on the Senda Pirenaica, the GR11.


News from the mountains

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016
Yarn bombing: the 21st century comes to the Pyrenees (La Jonquera, 2014)

Yarn bombing: the 21st century comes to the Pyrenees (La Jonquera, 2014)

I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.

John Muir, 1883

Putting the words ‘news’ and ‘mountains’ together like this seems strange today. Of course, in Muir’s time many mountains were yet to be climbed. But in the 21st century – and in Europe – there are no more discoveries to be made. The mountains are no longer news. Nothing happens in the mountains. Or does it?

I have been thinking about how we view the mountains after seeing a new film: ‘Les Pyrénées, de l’Atlantique à la Méditerranée’ (see trailer below). It shows the Pyrenees in all their beauty, with the cameraman swooning at the majesty of the peaks. It ticks all the boxes.


Rewilding and the Pyrenees

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

I have been reading Feral by George Monbiot. He wants to rewild the planet: the seas, the skies, the land and the animals.  His approach is global but he focusses on Britain. One part of the project is to reintroduce megafauna. Is it possible? Is it even a good idea?

Here in the French Pyrenees and neighbouring departments there are still some thriving megafauna, others are threatened or have recently disappeared; some animals have been successfully reintroduced. So what does all this have to say about rewilding?

Wild boar


wild boar -- photo : GerardM, Wikipedia

Wild boar — photo : GerardM, Wikipedia


Wild boar score 10 (out of 10) on Monbiot’s scale of suitability for reintroduction, a combination of ecological interest and likely acceptance.

In the department of the Aude where I have lived for the past 20 years, there are an estimated 30,000, and over 10,000 are killed every year. Yet, despite their numbers, and many sightings of footprints, I have never seen one in the wild: an unmistakably piggy snort followed by a lot of rustling in the undergrowth is as close as I have been.

But they are dangerous. A few years ago an old woman walking in a vineyard in a neighbouring village was killed by a wild boar; I know somebody whose car was written off when a boar charged out of the forest in front of her; and there are deaths every year as a result of hunting accidents – but nobody is calling for their extermination.


map of GR10

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