German hunters hound their leader

Click to follow
OPEN SEASON has been declared on the president of the German Hunting Federation, who is under fire from animal lovers for mercilessly liquidating 80 hand-reared wild boar in the Eifel, and is also being sniped at from within his own ranks.

Baron Constantin Heereman von Zuydtwyck stands accused of selling out to the enemy. He has signed a pact with the country's leading environmental pressure group, which if enforced would turn some of Germany's best hunting grounds into animal sanctuaries. As the federation prepares for its general assembly next month, there are calls for the president's resignation.

The crisis within the shooting fraternity is palpable. In these times of a Red-Green government in Berlin, hunters feel more than ever like an endangered species. The countryside is disappearing, and wilderness is being upgraded into national parks at an alarming pace. In these only hounds are allowed to stalk the deer, and no shots may be fired.

Now Baron Heereman has conceded, in the name of his 300,000 members, that their quarry are entitled to a bit of peace. The pact with Germany's Association for the Protection of Nature calls for more national parkland to be put out of the hunters' reach, so that dwindling wildlife populations may breed undisturbed. In return, the conservationists recognise that "hunting can be a legitimate form of land use".

It seemed like a reasonable deal at the time, though the baron is not so sure now. "I did sign it, but it was only a recommendation," he said. "The document is still being worked on."

Part of the document, which called for more game sanctuaries, has been rejected by his members point-blank. It especially appalled hunters in Schleswig-Holstein. Already they cannot shoot most of the wildlife in the Wattenmeer, a vast stretch of sea teeming with birds, and the prospect of more restrictions has outraged them.

Baron Heereman is adamant that there is no other way forward. "Land is shrinking," he said. "We must co-operate with conservationists. It is better to talk to one another than to have constant confrontation."

But the majority of his troops are not yet ready for peaceful coexistence, and there has been an outcry, too, in the enemy camp. Hunt saboteurs refuse to acknowledge any convergence of interest with the hunters. They point out that the number of people granted game licences is increasing every year, despite the vanishing wilderness.

In 1997, the last year for which figures are available, Germans bagged 46,000 red deer, 35,200 fallow deer, 360,000 wild boar, 600,000 foxes, a million assorted rabbits and hares, nearly 800,000 wild pigeons and millions of other birds.

With Greens running the environment portfolio in several Land as well as the federal government, such carnage is becoming politically unacceptable. Hunters find themselves striking deals with local politicians, limiting their sport to areas where there is still an abundant supply of game. Baron Heereman himself had to agree to banishing the partridge shoot to just two districts of North Rhine-Westphalia, his home state.

To many of his members, though, such "voluntary agreements" smack of defeatism. Leaders of the federation in Schleswig-Holstein even suspect a sinister plot. Without naming anyone, they say conservationists have infiltrated the organisation, and have reached positions of influence. This is the British situation in reverse, where it is the hunting lobby that is alleged to have targeted the National Trust.

There is no evidence that German animal lovers have successfully subverted the hunters' federation, but feelings are running high nonetheless. Next month's general meeting, traditionally a gentle affair, promises to be stormy, and Baron Heereman is no longer assured of re-election.

His pact, which would have been put forward to the government as a joint action plan, seems destined for the chop, and he may suffer the indignity of being hounded out of office.