The killing fields: Europe's hunting season begins

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

As Brad and Angelina have discovered to their cost, Europe's hills and forests will soon be echoing to the sound of gunfire, as hunting season begins. John Walsh takes aim

A A A

It's one of those tiny details that the estate agent or the surveyor omits to tell you, like the fact that there's a ghost in the drawing-room or a septic tank in the next field. For Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, it was worse than either.

The couple and their four children recently moved into a new home in France, to await the arrival of their twins. Their new residence is a 17th-century chateau in Aix-en-Provence, leased from the US millionaire Tom Bove. Since Brad and Ange are keen supporters of environmental causes, they were shocked to learn that the castle's grounds are traditionally used by locals to hunt wild boar every summer. The season starts on 15 August.

Could Hollywood's golden couple do something? Should they risk irritating their new neighbours by trying to ban a traditional French pastime? As they didn't own the land, the moment passed. The president of the boar hunt told France Dimanche that the chateau estate was fair game: "We have a written agreement to hunt on the estate, which doesn't expire until at least 30 August," he said. So the Jolie-Pitts will have to put up with spilt boar-guts in their backyard, along with the other signs of Provence en fête.

The extent to which such things go on in our European backyard is startling. Home-grown hunters and bloodthirsty tourists wipe out livestock in 20 countries – some very close to home. Deluded hunter-gatherers flock to Scotland every year to take pot-shots at hundreds of thousands of male deer. You don't need a licence to kill them. You can just roll up with your mates. Yes, stag-party stag-hunts have become popular – even if it seems a lot of trouble (and mayhem) to go to, for the sake of a pun. Bear-fanciers visited Romania in droves over the past 15 years for a simple reason: under communist rule, bear-shooting was banned (unless you were a Communist party official). The bear population grew until it was the largest in Europe outside Russia – and after the fall of the USSR, and the rescinding of the ban, the door was open for European hunters to visit, paying €8,000 (£6,000) to hunt bear in the Carpathian mountains.

In Ireland, fox hunting with hounds is still perfectly legal, and traditional hunts such as the Galway Blazers, the Black and Tans and the Golden Vale still thunder across meadows in search of their prey. In France, as Brad and Angelina discovered, hunting holidays are organised around chateaux. In the Loire valley, the count and master of hounds dress up their guests (for $5,000/£2,500 to $6,000 per person) in 18th-century livery, with velvet-collared coats and tricorn hats, and ride to battle with fox, stag, roebuck and hare while listening to uniformed flunkeys blowing huge circular hunting horns. In Austria and Switzerland, ibex and chamois deer are slaughtered by annual visitors to the mountains; but there's a contrast between their approaches. Austria offers holidaymakers "big-game hunting" before revealing that the big game in question will be "sub-species of deer, chamois and sheep". Sheep? When were they big game?) Tour operators offer a five-day hunt in a 14,000-hectare game reserve and promises "top world-level trophies" without requiring any documentation from the shooter.

In Switzerland, you must apply a year in advance for a licence to hunt ibex or chamois, pay $2,000 – and there's no guarantee you'll get one. If successful, you're allowed two days to stalk the deer, but you can't use a car; you have to stalk on foot. And they'll steer you towards the older and more clapped-out animals, so you don't shoot the young ones. In Spain, hunting ibex and chamois is allowed on private hunting grounds in national wildlife reserves. Hunters need a licence, a permit, gun clearance and personal insurance. Throwbacks who prefer stalking living animals with a bow and arrow for pleasure, as their Neanderthal ancestors did from necessity, can go on bow hunts, in which red stag, fallow deer, sheep and wild boar are drawn towards "tree stands", "ground blinds" and "productive meadows", to guarantee a clear shot for the humans in the hunting lodges. Depending on season and duration, prices can go up to $200,000.

The Czech Republic became a Mecca for huntsmen after the fall of communism, but hunting was always big in Czechoslovakia: stags, roe deer and wild boar have been bred to be blown away for five centuries, and new species have been introduced – fallow deer, sika deer and mouflon sheep – in the interests of variety. You need a valid hunting licence from your country of origin, before you can apply for a Czech one. The boar season runs from 1 August to 15 January, though the good news is that enthusiasts can blast away at piglets and yearlings all year round.

In Italy, fox hunting has been replaced by drag hunting with hounds – but wild boar hunting is enthusiastically pursued by locals. Foreigners, according to the law, can hunt deer and boar only in private hunting grounds, usually found near major cities, and pay £600 a day. They need a hunting licence, permit and insurance.

And England? Surely, since the fox-hunting ban in 2004, we are exempt from any taint of hunting and blood sports? Nope. It's easy to find websites cheerily offering "Exotic Deers [sic] Hunting in England" and promises a rich haul of carcasses from the "autochthonous" (native) deer population. The organisers explain that, due to the insanely complicated gun laws in the UK, they can't rent you guns – they'll just lend you the things and you pay for the ammunition. The season is September-December, the quarry is muntjac and fallow deer and soay sheep, and they charge a cool £470 per diem. It's still legal to hunt deer with guns in England, you see – but not with bows and arrows or with a pack of hounds.

So there you have it – a veritable blitzkrieg of wildlife right across Europe on every day of the season; some of it goes on all year round. Different countries have different approaches to the subject. Is it perhaps time they were standardised? In October 2006, the European parliament declared that "improved animal protection is a permanent obligation of the Community" and MEPs endorsed a resolution on the Community Action Plan on the Protection and Welfare of Animals 2006-2010. It has a dry, bureaucratic, rather hollow ring, and will continue to, until Europe starts to allow its wildlife the most basic welfare protection of all – not having men shoot it for their idle pleasure.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie