Of farm and fox
Nature conservation groups in Flanders have criticised a new rule that would allow an increase in the hunting of foxes, claiming it will not achieve its purpose. Meanwhile, hunting representatives have said the new rules do not declare open season on the fox. “I don’t understand what the fuss is about,” said one hunter.
Both sides weigh in on a new government proposal that would allow fox hunting out of season
On 13 January, the Flemish government approved a proposal to allow fox hunting out of season. The normal season runs from 1 October to 14 February, with hunting not permitted within 50 metres of a fox’s den.
The new rule allows the Nature and Woodland Agency to permit hunting outside those dates for a particular area if they feel it’s necessary to control damage caused by foxes. Hunting would be restricted to an area 500 metres from the scene of the damage using only firearms only; a permit will be given only if the keepers of animals or poultry affected have already taken other precautions to protect them.
According to supporters of the measure, the extension of hunting is needed to tackle the growth of fox populations. According to the Institute for Nature and Woodland Research, there are an average two foxes for every square kilometre in Flanders – about 30,000 in all.
And where there are foxes, there is damage to livestock. This month alone have been reports of foxes attacking chickens in Zomergem, East Flanders, and in Assebroek, a district of Bruges, as well as signs of fox activity in the Zwin nature reserve at the coast. In both chicken attacks, the fox killed nine birds, eating some and leaving the rest behind. One couple in Hamme, East Flanders, were given a summons for setting traps after suffering eight visits from foxes in recent months in which they lost geese, peacocks and chickens.
“Won’t solve the problem”
But Natuurpunt, the conservation organisation, pointed out that killing foxes was not an efficient way of preventing damage to livestock. “An extension of fox hunting will not solve the problem,” said Wim Van Gils. “If you want to protect your chickens, you have to invest in a closed coop, preferably backed up by a strong fence.”
The fox, opponents of the hunting rules point out, is a territorial animal whose numbers depend on the availability of food. Shooting one fox simply leaves a space for another to fill, and the numbers will be made up naturally come breeding time. Some 10,000 foxes are shot every year in Flanders, yet the numbers do not go down. Numbers in fact are increasing as previously rural foxes encroach on urban areas where food is plentiful and provided by humans.
Natuurpunt’s position is defended by the bird protection society Vogelbescherming Vlaanderen. “I find it remarkable that a great many politicians have learned nothing from the debate we’ve had over recent years in Flanders,” said Jan Rodts. “The expert opinion of fox specialists and other scientists is being completely ignored.”
The measure introduced by environment minister Joke Schauvliege has the support of the majority parties in Flanders, with opposition coming from Groen and N-VA. “It is bad policy making because, scientifically, it is nonsense to think an extension of the hunt will solve anything,” said N-VA member of parliament Mark Demesmaeker. Schauvliege defended the proposal as limited, strictly controlled and preventative. “The exception to the hunting law … is a temporary and local measure that aims to keep the growing fox population under control, for the benefit of other animals and people.”
The proposal will now go to the Council of State for an opinion before coming back to be amended or passed.