Down to Earth

Hunters: Enemies or allies of the environment?


Hunters claim to be France's leading ecologists. Yet the tradition divides opinion and has pitted hunters against nature conservationists. As the debate continues to rage, we're asking: does hunting hurt or help the environment? We travelled to the Camargue region of southern France to find out more.


This week on Down to Earth we meet a family of hunters in the marshlands of the Camargue region in southern France. "We do everything we can to allow nature to rule," says Jean-Yves Milla, a doctor who owns a small estate dedicated to hunting. "We are allies of nature, allies of ecology, and most importantly not enemies."

Jean-Yves and his son Vincent have set up a system for managing water levels, and created an environment that helps both animal and plant species thrive in more than 75 hectares of land. Vincent Villa is also a game breeder and produces some 8,000 birds destined to satisfy the needs of hunters. "By releasing birds I believe we're preserving nature," he argues. "That's to say, when we hunt a bird that's been released, we leave the rest in peace."

Environmentalists beg to differ, pointing out that the birds bred for hunting purposes are anything but wild. They are disoriented, ill-adapted to nature, and unable to feed themselves. According to Marc Giraud, a field naturalist at the Association for the Protection of Wild Animals, only 10 percent of farmed birds released into the wild survive. He also decries a system that fails to protect endangered species: "France is where the greatest number of species are hunted for the longest period of time. More than 20 of them are vulnerable."

But can hunters and environmentalists ever be reconciled? Jocelyn Champagnon, a researcher at the Tour du Valat institute in southern France, is hopeful. As a bird ecology expert, he has focused on the impact of mallard duck releases and how they can affect their wild cousins. Although in the long term it can contribute to the loss of genetic diversity, he contends that hunting is not the main threat to species. Intensive farming and the use of pesticides can be equally harmful, if not more. For Champagnon, there is reason to hope hunters and nature conservationists can meet halfway: "We have something in common, knowledge of the environment around us and together we can act against the decline in species."

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