Monday, 11 March 2013

Counting animals

Licensed hunters in France conduct an annual census of the hunt animals in their area. This is to assess how well the animals and birds are reproducing and whether certain species should not be hunted in the coming year. I went along to see how it was conducted.

An early start saw us all meeting outside the church of Ymeray. . After waiting for everyone to gather there was a short briefing session by the leader, outlining where we'd all start. A predominently male affair I watched them all renewing acquaintances. 

The French hunt is dying. It has become too expensive and there are too few critters left to hunt. Numbers are very low but not because of the hunt. It's due to destruction of habitats as a result of human activity. The key culprits to the destruction of biodiversity are the crop farmers. The fields are large and monocultural (only one type of crop for miles, instead of the older system of mixed cropping). The agriculturalists use herbicides and pesticides which naturally kill the food of larger critters and kill off wild plants which would shelter birds and animals.

We wondered how many animals we would see. We didn't expect a lot but even so, everyone was disappointed and concerned at the desert that is the French countryside these days. We covered Ymeray, Montlouet, Gallardon and a bit of Talvoisin villages.

The weather was superbly uncooperative - so hard to see very far in front of us and we really needed to see. The first part of the countryside yielded absolutely nothing, even allowing for the thick fog. It was very, very cold standing still out there for hours. The hunters do this service in their own time. It was hard to see how they kept their interest going with so little to show for their efforts.

There are two teams: the counters who stand around, scattered at regular intervals across a field or along a road; the walkers who walk in a line, evenly spaced which flushes out any critters for the counters to count. Each counter counts only the animals that run between themselves and the next counter further along on their right. Things running across the front don't count. This is to avoid double-counting.

Slips of paper are filled in. sadly the most frequent digit used was zero. This processed occurred several times. At the end of a count we would all pile into vans and head to the next location. Then it was time for a snack which was set out in the barn of one of the agriculteurs whose land we were counting on. There were the obligatory baguettes and foie gras-like spreads. Not for me. I nibbled a hunk of dry bread- there was nothing else.

We bundled into vans again and off to another set of fields. The fog was lifting but it was still cold. At this time of the year the fields contain young rapeseed and wheat plants which will start growing in a month's time. It's peaceful, uninteresting and a bit depressing with the lack of animals and birds. At the last location we finally saw some hares bounding about and also some chevreuils (small deer). You'll need to zoom on this photo to see them but they are there.

Everyone drove back to Ymeray. Some went on to a lunch together at a restaurant. Jean-Claude and I went back to his place. My shoulders had become too painful in the cold to continue.

 I enjoyed watching the camaraderie amongst the men, many of whom had known each other a long time and many of whom were from another hunt club. With hunter numbers so low, clubs need to amalgamate to survive.


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