French bird hunting plans risk ruffling feathers in Brussels

France has authorised several traditional methods for hunting larks using cages or nets in the country's south-west, outraging nature conservationists who said the move would fall foul of European Union law.

French bird hunting plans risk ruffling feathers in Brussels
France's Environment minister Christophe Bechu (Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

Decrees published in the government’s Journal Officiel allow for the capture of almost 57,000 larks in four south-western départements in October and November.

Capturing larks using spring-loaded nets is a method for “judicious use of birds in small numbers,” one of the decrees read.

Another text allows for the use of cages propped up over piles of seeds, which fall onto the birds when they land and peck at the food.

Only a few thousand birds are allowed to be captured using this method.

“The government has chosen to re-offend by re-issuing orders it knows are illegal,” the Ligue pour la protection des oiseaux (LPO) said in a statement.

“As usual, it has published them the day before they apply, so thousands of birds can be killed” before legal action can block the decrees, the LPO added.

A 2009 European directive bans “all means, arrangements or methods used for the large-scale or non-selective capture or killing of birds”.

It can only be suspended “where there is no other satisfactory solution” to a restrictive set of problems caused by birds, or for research and conservation and the “judicious use of birds in small numbers” invoked by Paris.

Last year the Conseil d’État, France’s top administrative court, suspended similar government decrees over “serious doubts about their legality”, but has yet to make a final decision on the traditional hunting methods.

Environment minister Christophe Bechu had promised in parliament last month to wait for the court’s decision before issuing new hunting decrees.

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French hunter ‘sorry’ after killing Franco-British man he mistook for boar

A French hunter told a court Thursday that he was sorry and "marked for life" after killing a man he mistook for a wild boar, an accident that has sparked calls for tighter restrictions on shooting in rural areas.

French hunter 'sorry' after killing Franco-British man he mistook for boar

The death of Morgan Keane, a Franco-British man aged 25, caused outrage in 2020 when he was shot while cutting wood near his house in the village of Calvignac in southwest France.

The man who fired the fatal shot and the 51-year-old organiser of the hunt went on trial on Thursday in the nearby town of Cahors, charged with involuntary manslaughter.

If convicted, they face up to three years in prison and a fine of €75,000.

“There isn’t a day I don’t think about it, it’s marked me for life. I’m sorry,” the shooter told the court, admitting that he had not “identified the target”.

The case has revived tensions between anti-hunting activists and defenders of a rural hobby and practice that is seen as necessary by farmers to keep down deer and boar populations in particular.

During the busy times of the hunting season, large parts of the French countryside reverberate with the sound of gunshot, leading many walkers to avoid forested areas for their own safety.

“A lot of people support us,” said Audrey Tindiliere, a member of a collective campaigning for restrictions which was set up after Keane’s death.

“Eighty percent of people are in favour of strengthening the regulation of hunting in order to improve the sharing of the countryside with hunters,” she told AFP before the trial.

State prosecutors called for the shooter to be given a two-year jail term, with 18 months suspended, underscoring “the seriousness of the shortcomings that led to the death of Morgan Keane”.

A verdict is expected on January 12.

Frequent accidents

Hunters form a powerful political lobby in France through the National Federation of Hunters (FNC).   

The head of the FNC, Willy Schraen, called for an “exemplary verdict” in the Keane case, an acknowledgement of the strong public feelings around the death.

Keane, whose father was British and mother French, was inside the boundary of his property.

“We ban hunters who do not respect the most basic rules. It mustn’t happen again. It’s unacceptable that this mistake led to the death of a man,” he said.

“If you don’t know what you’re shooting at, you don’t shoot.”

The number of hunting accidents has fallen over the last 20 years, according to the government’s Office for Biodiversity.

There were 90 accidents during the 2021/22 season, eight of which were fatal, including two people who were not hunters, the figures show.