A fatal hunting accident has led to the first Sunday hunting ban in France with shooting banned in parts of Haute-Savoie to make the countryside safer for walkers, families and people taking part in outdoor activities.
An agreement between hunters and the préfecture will come into force this month and see the countryside split into red and orange zones where hunting is banned either totally or partially at different times.
With the hunting season opening on different dates during September, the move has been greeted as a momentous first step by wildlife groups.
With increasing leisure use of the countryside, safety is the key reason for the ban after the death last December of Gaël Lavy, 43, who was fatally shot in the head by a hunter while out jogging with his wife near Semnoz.
The 22-year-old hunter said he had mistaken Mr Lavy for a wild animal and the prefect said in launching the new safety measures: “After this terrible hunting accident we wanted to set new rules for better cohabitation between hunters, hikers and hillwalkers.”
The move will see hunting banned on Sundays after 11.30 in 274km2 of the most frequented parts of the Haute-Savoie countryside, near Annecy, labelled orange zones. In addition, hunting is completely banned in 33km2 of ‘zones rouges’ except for two Thursdays a month. More than half of hunting accidents occur on Sundays.
There were 146 hunting accidents (10 fatal) during the 2015/2016 season, up from 122 (14 fatal) the previous season. Of last year’s victims, 83% were hunters but two of those killed were non-hunters and three deaths were caused by the victims themselves.
“For many years we have been working on the prevention of accidents and sharing nature and respecting others,” said Philippe Arpin, director of the local hunting group, La Fédération Départementale des Chasseurs (FDC) in Haute-Savoie.
“We had already voluntarily banned hunting on Wednesdays and Fridays so after this accident we contacted the préfecture straight away.”
Working together, the FDC and the authorities defined the orange and red zones, trained 3,000 hunters in safety procedures and made high-visibility jackets obligatory.
“We also realised the general public want more information,” Mr Arpin said. “So during collective hunting, notices will have to be displayed around the perimeter of the hunt.”
The préfecture has also set up a system of QR codes (‘flashcodes’) on signs around hunting areas, giving people access to updated information via a smartphone.
The Haute-Savoie hunting season opens on September 11 along with that of southern France. The season opens in Corsica on September 4, in the north-west and north-east on September 18 and the northern central zone on September 25.
The wildlife charity Aspas has welcomed the ban, saying it was a first in France, while accusing the environment minister of being apathetic about hunting accidents and fatalities.
Aspas wants a total Sunday hunting ban; a security zone around homes, hunting safety rules covering all France; health and sight tests for hunters wishing to renew their licences; and alcohol limits for hunters. Currently, hunters may shoot regardless of how much alcohol is in their blood.
Aspas has also condemned the illegal hunting of thousands of ortolans every year and the centuries-old custom of eating the endangered songbirds whole after they are drowned in armagnac and cooked.
Following calls by Aspas and the bird protection group LPO, the European Commission is set to take France to the European Court for ignoring an EU-wide ortolan hunt ban.
The EC says the hunt “annuls the efforts of other countries to reverse the species’ decline”.
The ortolan’s European population dropped 84% from 1980 to 2012 – but the EC said France had not responded to a 2013 letter demanding it to stop. It was put on two months’ notice, which ended on August 15, to state the measures it had taken.