Accidental killing of hiker fuels bitter debate over hunting in France

Woman hit by stray bullet during wild boar hunt sparks row over stricter regulations before presidential election

The accidental killing of a hiker by a teenager who was hunting wild boar has rekindled a bitter debate over stricter regulations of France’s hunting tradition before the presidential election in April.

The 25-year-old woman was walking with a friend along a marked trail near Aurillac in the heavily forested Cantal region when she was hit by a stray bullet on Saturday. She died instantly.

The 17-year-old girl who pulled the trigger was part of an organised hunt in the forest and had received her hunting licence when she was 16. She was treated in hospital for shock and was still being questioned by police on Monday morning. Tests revealed no trace of drugs or alcohol in her body.

The killing has sparked a row over hunting accidents in France and whether tough new rules should be imposed limiting hunting to certain days or weekends. France is the country with the largest number of hunters in Europe. It is the only country that allows hunting every day during the hunting season – unlike other countries that have put in place non-hunting days, allowing more security for hikers.

“We urgently need more regulation of this activity,” said Yannick Jadot, the Greens presidential candidate. He said an Ipsos poll had shown 61% of French people wanted hunting banned on weekends and in the school holidays.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is leading in the polls among leftwing candidates, said this “abominable catastrophe must make us stop to think”. He called for a ban on weekends and school holidays “because that’s when there’s the biggest risk”. But he said he did not want to ban hunting completely as that would cause chaos in France.

Hunters set off with their dogs on the trail of wild boar in Montamel, south-western France
Hunters set off with their dogs on the trail of wild boar in Montamel, south-western France. Photograph: Valentine Chapuis/AFP/Getty Images

Hunting in France is not considered a class issue, unlike in the UK. The French Revolution stripped nobles of their exclusive hunting rights and today many of France’s more than 1 million hunters are working class, particularly in the south-west and north-east of the country. Hunting in France varies from wild boar and deer to different bird species. Unlike in the UK, horseback hunting with packs of hounds is not banned, though it is a minority sport.

The centrist Emmanuel Macron adopted a pro-hunting stance at the start of his presidency, seen as a way of courting the rural vote.

The far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said hunting in France was “an ancestral tradition which must be maintained”. She said it should not be banned at weekends, but there should be stricter safety measures to allow walkers and hunters to enjoy the forest.

“If it turns out we need to tighten the rules further, we will do so,” Macron’s secretary of state in charge of biodiversity, Bérangère Abba, told Agence France-Presse, noting that France had announced the creation of an app that could indicate areas where hunts were taking place.

Le Monde cited figures from France’s biodiversity office of 3,325 hunting accidents in France since 2000, resulting in 421 deaths.

France has in recent months banned certain highly criticised hunting techniques of birds, such as hunting with nets or bird cages or glue-trap hunting, in line with a 2009 EU directive.


Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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