As the first badgers are offered up for sacrifice to the farming gods and goddesses in Dorset, news from France: Sheep Farmers have temporarily kidnapped a National Park chief exec to protest at the increasing number of Wolves taking their sheep.
Wolves are back in France, having been extirpated in the 1930s. They returned about 25 years ago, from Italy, via the mountainous, inaccessible terrain of the Alps. There are thought to be between 250 and 300 wolves now in France, with the population increasing by about 20% a year. Estimates for how many sheep have been killed by Wolves in France vary wildly, with shepherds claiming up to 8500 were killed last year. French farmers now want more Wolves culled – despite the Wolf being strictly protection from harm under the Habitats Directive. French farmers tend to get what they want.
Historically Wolves have always preyed on livestock which were taken onto mountain pastures in the summer – this is where the word Alp comes from: it means summer mountain pasture. Shepherds and Cowherds accompanied their animals to the Alps, living with them in wooden mountain huts. We saw a restored example of a cowherd hut village in Slovenia (which I will write about when I have more time). The shepherds and cowherds lived with their animals, took them in at night, kept watch against attacks by Wolves, Bears and “wild men”. They had fierce dogs to help them protect their livestock. It was an extremely tough existence for the people, mostly the young men and women of the village. But the quality of the mountain pastures (full of a myriad of wildflowers) produced the best milk and cheese, so it was worth the effort.
I wonder what protective measures modern French upland shepherds take against today’s Wolves. The France 24 article indicates they are reluctant to use guard dogs, which are as likely to attack tourists as wolves. Is this a reason for not using them? The statement “everything was fine until the wolves returned 15 years ago” suggests the farmers had grown used to not having wolves around – and had literally dropped their guard.
This is another example of “shifting baseline syndrome“. The Alpine farmers have become accustomed to the new normal ie alpine grazing without predators; and cannot countenance a return to the previous “normal”.
Could we see this happen in Dorset, once the Badger population has been reduced by 70, 80 or 90%?