Gendarmerie and countryside associations are warning of a rise in forest traps being set for mountain bikers and other path users across France, which some suspect could be laid by disgruntled hunters.
Traps made from metal wire and rope strung tightly across mountain and countryside trails have been reported across France.
Other traps such as upturned nails hidden across pathways have also been found.
One mountain biker from Darnétal in Seine-Maritime, Camille Bazile, crashed into an unavoidable two-millimetre metal wire that was strung across his path, and later saw another one further down.
He said that it could have been even more dangerous.
He told news service FranceInfo: “It was very tightly attached. It would only take a second [to be distracted], maybe looking down at your hands or your GPS, or [if I had been riding] an hour earlier when it was still a bit dark...I don’t know if I would still be here.”
Since 2004, around 50 victims and traps have been reported, with countryside associations estimating that the actual number of victims could be three times higher or more.
Romuald Seels, manager at countryside association le Collectif de Defense des Loisirs, in the Oise, said: “When a trap is set, we don’t know who is going to come past. It could be a child, a horse, a mountain biker, a motorbike, a quad biker. There is nothing certain about this.”
In 2015, one 57-year-old hunter was sentenced to nine months in prison, including one month in a closed jail, for having set a cable trap for a mountain biker, causing three serious injuries.
No-one else has ever been charged for the offence in France.
FranceInfo questioned hunting association la Federation Departementale des Chasseurs de Seine-Maritime, asking about who might have set the traps.
Federation president Alain Durand said that he couldn’t speculate, and that it was up to the police to investigate. The federation has publicly condemned the practice.
But Mr Durand added that the relationship between hunters and other users of the countryside was not always healthy.
He said: “It happens on both sides. Today, what you are calling aggressive traps towards walkers and bikers...we have the same thing every week.
“With hunting lodges being set alight, hunting federations being targeted [with graffiti] and sometimes even fires being started...tyres cut, windscreens smashed, and sometimes thefts from cars.”
The issue has even been raised in the Senate, after Cédric Perrin, Senator for the Territoire de Belfort, asked to know more about the number of trap reports, and what legal consequences the perpetrators might face
In response, the Interior Ministry acknowledged how dangerous the traps could be for all path users, and said that the number of traps reported is probably far fewer than the real numbers out there.
It also said that there had been a rise in people using bikes since the Covid-19 crisis, which had worsened relationships with local residents and hunters. It said that it was offering support to local gendarmerie forces, including helping them to communicate better with forest workers, and to use motorbikes to better patrol the areas affected.
More mounted gendarmerie officers are also seeking to patrol the most-affected areas, and are attempting to warn path users of the possible traps that could be in place.
The gendarmerie has said that anyone who sees these traps or is affected by them should not hesitate to report the incident or location to your local gendarmerie station.
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