Wolves move in to northern France as population expands

A wolf has been spotted in the Normandy département of Calvados for the first time in living memory as the population slowly expands.

A grey wolf in Rhodes, eastern France.
A grey wolf like this one has been spotted in Calvados, northern France. (Photo by JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN / AFP)

The French Office of Biodiversity has confirmed that photos taken last week close to Bayeux in northern France did indeed show a grey wolf. 

The first confirmed modern wolf sighting in Normandy was in the Seine-Maritime département in 2020, but this is the first time that one has been spotted in Calvados. 

In an interview with France Bleu, Nathalie Pfeiffer of the French Office of Biodiversity urged residents not to be scared. 

“There has been no interaction between humans [and wolves] since the return of the wolf in France,” she said, cautioning, “If sheep farms are badly protected, wolves will maybe go for them more easily.”

READ ALSO 24 years after I first reported on wolves in France, they are at my door in Normandy

At the end of the the 2020/21 winter season, there were an estimated 624 grey wolves in France. The species had been effectively wiped out by the late 1930s, but wolves crossed over the border from Italy some 50 years later and the population has been growing ever since. 

Today, most of the wolves in France are mostly based in the Alps, of the are 125 geographical zones with permanent wolf populations, many are also found in the southwest and elsewhere. 

Wolf populations are concentrated in the southeast of France. (Source: French Office of Biodiversity)

In 2018, the French government implemented a five-year ‘wolf plan‘ that sought to protect the species, while also protecting herds of sheep and farmers’ livelihoods.

As part of this plan, farmers receive compensation for livestock lost to wolf attacks and there are regular culls to keep the wolf population under control – unlicensed wolf killing is punishable by up to two years in prison and a €150,000 fine.

The state has also financed some 5,000 guard dogs, which are known to scare wolves away from herds. 

Despite the population growing and surpassing the target of 500 wolves set by the government in 2018, the number of attacks on livestock has remained stable.

Grey wolves in France mostly subsist on deer and wild boar. 

The last wolf attack on a human in France was in 1918. In North America, where the wolf population is thought to number close to 60,000, there have only been two attacks since the 20th century. 

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Scorching summer was France’s second hottest on record

Three heatwaves since June produced France's second-hottest summer since records began in 1900, the Météo France weather service said on Tuesday, warning that scorching temperatures will be increasingly common as the climate crisis intensifies.

Scorching summer was France's second hottest on record

With 33 days of extreme heat overall, average temperatures for June, July and August were 2.3C above normal for the period of 1991-2020.

It was surpassed only by the 2003 heatwave that caught much of France unprepared for prolonged scorching conditions, leading to nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths, mainly among the elderly.

Data is not yet available for heat-related deaths this summer, but it is likely to be significantly lower than 15,000 thanks to preventative measures taken by local and national authorities. 

Most experts attribute the rising temperatures to the climate crisis, with Météo France noting that over the past eight summers in France, six have been among the 10-hottest ever.

By 2050, “we expect that around half of summer seasons will be at comparable temperatures, if not higher,” even if greenhouse gas emissions are contained, the agency’s research director Samuel Morin said at a press conference.

The heat helped drive a series of wildfires across France this summer, in particular a huge blaze in the southwest that burned for more than a month and blackened 20,000 hectares. 

Unusually, wildfires also broke out even in the normally cooler north of the country, and in total an area five times the size of Paris burned over the summer. 

Adding to the misery was a record drought that required widespread limits on water use, with July the driest month since 1961 – many areas still have water restrictions in place.

MAP: Where in France are there water restrictions and what do they mean?

Forecasters have also warned that autumn storms around the Mediterranean – a regular event as air temperatures cool – will be unusually intense this year because of the very high summer temperatures. A storm that hit the island of Corsica in mid August claimed six lives. 

“The summer we’ve just been through is a powerful call to order,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Monday, laying out her priorities for an “ecological planning” programme to guide France’s efforts against climate change.