The Secret to Rewilding Predators

Posted by Annie Hatt on 24/11/2015

A recent article was posted by Claire Marshall, a BBC Environment Correspondent, in which she explains that new hunting laws relating to wolves in France are causing a stir. The problem is that local sheep farmers claim to be losing stock through predation and this has resulted in the French Government increasing the number of wolves that can be killed in 2015 from 25 to 36. A wolf hunting team is now supplied by the state in defiance of EU law.

Although rewilding projects are known to benefit the ecology of an area (e.g. Bison back in business), it is also important to consider the local community and their way of life. In 2014 it is thought 8,500 sheep were killed by wolves in France. Farmers are compensated for each animal killed; however, in 2012 the bill for this reached almost 15 million euros. The rate of predation is only increasing, indicating that this may not be a viable approach in the long-term. 

While farmers in the area are putting pressure on the government to do more to protect their livestock, a farmer interviewed by Claire Marshall suggested he did not want the wolves to be killed, instead just wanted to be assured that the government was aware of their ‘struggle’ and provide greater help. The same farmer has erected electric fencing and uses guard dogs to help defend his flock, which is a method adopted worldwide when wild predators and livestock clash. In Switzerland and Spain guard dogs are used, along with other methods, to protect livestock from lynx. The same is true in the Apennine mountains in Italy to protect livestock from the endangered Marsican bear (e.g. Living with bears).

The rewildling of lynx in Britain is now being discussed in earnest with a unanimous vote (carried out by Lynx UK) in favour of a reintroduction. However, the immediate response from farmers is unfavourable due to perceived impacts on livestock. It seems, however, several areas where lynx have been introduced have managed to find productive methods of protection for livestock, without the need for killing. In Switzerland it is thought there are now 170 wild lynx and only 50 sheep are lost per year, whereas 7000 roe deer are hunted by lynx over the same period. Lynx are ambush hunters and they spend more of their time in woodlands, where they have significant cover. Farmers understand that the lynx is an ambush hunter and armed with this knowledge, farmers are advised to stay away from wooded area, especially during lambing season. Lynx also help keep numbers of deer down, which in return protects young trees and even reduces the population of fox, thereby minimising damage caused by foxes on local farms.

In Norway, however, the problem with lynx continues. Norwegian farmers say some measures like guard dogs are not suitable for their methods of farming. Unlike England, sheep are allowed to roam across large areas, including woodland, and are not always closely monitored. It seems that money given to farmers in compensation would possibly be better spent on education for the farmers and local community, so they understand the importance of wild lynx and are made aware of their hunting practices. Subsidies could also be given for implementing precautionary methods including closer monitoring of their livestock and electric fencing, as these methods have been seen to work in other countries with similar farming methods. Payments have also been given to farmers in Sweden who have lynx on their land, which is another way of increasing the local value of the animals.

Reintroduction of predators has and will undoubtedely continue to cause conflict with farmers due to the risk to their livestock. However, understanding the behaviour of the species being introduced means measures can be put in place to ensure the negative effects to the local community is minimised. Once precautionary methods and education is put into place, hopefully many more reintroduction schemes can successfully take place with positives effects for local communities.