Friday 30 November 2018

Hunting in France and the decline in species

What role, if any, does hunting play in the massive species population declines we are experiencing across the board in France?

Hunting is one of those subjects that invariably divides people into being either for or against with both sides of the argument frequently suffering from the blindness and anger that comes with entrenched attitudes but the question that needs to be asked is how much harm results from hunting relative to other perhaps more acceptable activities when it comes to the declines in wildlife that we are witnessing? 

Looked at objectively it soon becomes clear that although the practice of hunting may be abhorrent to many people it doesn’t really have any impact on the populations of deer and boar, (gros gibier or large game as they are known), which is the main form of hunting in France. Many birds are specifically bred to be hunted such as Pheasant, Red-legged Partridge & Mallard and as such don’t really count, (see link at the bottom). Where we have bird populations that are already in decline resulting from other causes then clearly hunting these species must be considered as an additional factor.   Skylarks, Turtle doves, Black-tailed godwit, Curlew and Woodcock are just a few obvious examples of this.

It’s also the case that some species are persecuted relentlessly throughout the year being seen as vermin and this is not without consequences. Hunting may play a role in this where some species are concerned with Foxes, (with perhaps a million killed a year), along with Badgers topping the list. Although not strictly hunting as such the trapping and poisoning of other mammals has both a direct impact on the species concerned and also on non-target species that fall victim to the traps or poisons used.  Owls, Black and Red Kites and Hedgehogs are all well known to suffer extensively from non-target poisoning along with smaller birds that die after eating poison grain that is spread around industrial, residential and farm buildings for rodents to eat. Pine Marten, Stone Marten and Polecats are trapped and killed as well as being poisoned which is significant when taken alongside other causes of population decline.

Collisions with vehicles are a major cause of mortality for a number of species of birds, mammals, insects, reptiles and amphibians. What this amounts to is hard to gauge but some of our more threatened "common" species such as Barn Owls and Hedgehogs will be seen regularly dead on the road or by the roadsides as well as snakes and amphibians at certain times of the year. 

Given the above all of which have some degree of importance the greatest overriding cause of population decline for the majority of species is loss of habitat and the widespread use of pesticides, (fungicides, insecticides, herbicides, rodenticides, bactericides, molluscicides etc). Habitat loss covers a broad spectrum that removes or reduces sources of appropriate nutrition, sites for depositing eggs, nesting sites, adequate cover and shelter. It’s hard to find anywhere or any situation where these circumstances don’t apply with agricultural practices being by far the main cause but we need to see that habitat losses apply equally to our homes and gardens.  New or renovated buildings rarely leave places where wildlife used to thrive; eaves are sealed and walls are neat and smooth which removes millions of roosting or nesting places for birds, insects, bats and other creatures.

Where agriculture is concerned it would be hard to find any aspect of it that hasn’t had an extremely detrimental impact on our wildlife with many species being pushed to the edge. Pesticides, removal of hedgerows, the cultivation of every marginal piece of land all responding to greater and greater pressures for more animal feedstuffs and biofuels along with increased pressure to fill the supermarket shelves with a constant flow of uniform fruit and vegetables half of which is wasted. Add to this the mountains of cakes and pastry products all requiring evermore wheat production.

It’s also worth mentioning the impact that many of the introduced non-native species are having on our native species by way of predation or competition for available resources. Asian Hornets, Box moth, Louisana Crayfish and the American Bullfrog are well-known examples but there are hundreds more.

The effects of climate change are too difficult to quantify at the present but undoubtedly play a role that can only grow in the future.

So when it comes to species declines it’s quite clear that hunting doesn’t really begin to count and even from a cruelty perspective it’s no different to the rearing and slaughter of most commercial meat, fish and poultry for the mass consumer market.

For the record, my own view is that hunting and killing other species is rarely justified and that the killing of wild or native birds, in particular, has no place at all in the 21st Century.

Species it is permitted to hunt in France  

Preventing hunting on your land in France  

Industrial breeding of species for the hunt.