A mayor who has banned hunting on Sunday afternoons in his area believes a nationwide ban is possible.
Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, a town of 20,000 people in eastern France, has banned hunting on Wednesdays and from 13:00 on Sundays.
The measure will begin when the hunting season reopens in June.
Mayor Bruno Toussaint said it was passed with the agreement of local hunters, who accepted it “without any problem.”
Important to have discussions
“Everybody says it’s impossible for elected officials to discuss with hunters, but you simply need a bit of willingness, to get around a table and weigh up the pros and cons, and not be afraid of having discussions,” he said.
The ban applies to two forests within the commune’s boundaries, and signs will display the new rules.
“We are lucky enough to be surrounded by forests. It would be a shame to force people to stay in the town centre,” said Mr Toussaint.
“With Covid, people got back into the habit of walking in the forest as a family, and they could no longer do that.”
While there have been no reported hunting accidents in the commune, locals have had to modify their behaviour to avoid certain areas.
‘People afraid to go into the forest’
“People were afraid to go into the forest – myself included. When there are hunters beside you, it is not reassuring.”
Neighbouring village Taintrux soon followed suit and imposed its own Sunday afternoon ban – the forest overlaps both communes – so walkers can feel confident they have the forest to themselves.
“The mayor is a hunter,” Mr Toussaint said.
“He discussed it with the local hunting group, which quickly understood the necessity of letting everybody enjoy nature.”
Mayors and MPs from across France have been in touch to learn how the town was able to implement the change.
Over three-quarters of French in favour of banning hunting
More than three-quarters (78%) of French people are in favour of banning hunting completely on Sundays, an Ifop survey on behalf of seven nature protection groups revealed in January.
Despite popular support, the measure was absent from the package of hunting safety measures announced by the government earlier this year.
Green MP Charles Fournier recently tabled a draft bill proposing a Sunday ban, but there was not enough time for it to be debated.
It had already provoked the ire of hunting lobbyists.
They say the bill targets workers who have no option but to hunt on Sundays.
Mr Toussaint is in favour of national legislation.
“Maybe it can be the afternoon, and a compromise can be reached by having discussions.”
He acknowledged that building relationships makes it easier to implement the policy at local level:
“I have been in dialogue for years, and have a good relationship with the hunters.”
Willy Schraen, president of the Fédération Nationale des Chasseurs, has previously said giving up Sunday afternoons is “out of the question”.
Hunting-related injuries have been gradually declining.
At the start of the century, France averaged around 180 hunting accidents each year.
During the 2021-22 season, there were 90, according to figures from the OFB biodiversity agency.
In the same period, the number of fatal accidents per year fell from 31 to eight.
Yet the OFB noted that last year was “also marked by a significant increase in the proportion of non-hunters among victims [26% compared to an average of 12% over the last 20 years]”.
Two non-hunters were killed in 2021-22, and another 23 were injured.
The government’s plans to improve safety include developing a smartphone app to inform users about where hunts are taking place, introducing standardised signs for hunting areas, and obligatory training sessions for hunt organisers.