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Monday, 20 August, 2001, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
French hunt starts despite law
A family of Mallard ducks
Mallard ducks are one of the hunted species
French hunters have been demonstrating against a new law delaying the start of the season for hunting waterfowl - with some shooting birds in defiance of the law.


Hunters are respectable people who want to practise while respecting spaces and species - but we have had enough

Henri Sabarot, Gironde Hunters Federation
A bird protection group has expressed outrage over one incident last week, when 100 protected birds were killed in north-eastern France. It called the shooting a "massacre" and condemned the situation as unacceptable.

Hunting waterfowl when they are breeding or migrating has been banned under European law since 1979. But French legislation was passed only last year bringing the law in France into line - making this the first restricted summer.

The French law now leaves each local French district with the power to set final limits within the EU boundaries - 10 August to 20 February.

Illegal hunting

The Times newspaper on Monday reported that 200 hunters had turned out on Sunday in the Loire-Atlantique region of western France to defy a September start-date.

Dozens of mallard ducks, teal and woodcocks were shot under "the benevolent eye of the French authorities", it reported.

Local authorities in the area had originally declared that the hunting season could start at the earliest possible point - 10 August - even though many birds in the region were still breeding.

After bird protection groups objected, the decision was overturned by the Nantes civil court, and the date shifted back to 1 September.

Helicopter

But more than 1,000 hunters began shooting a week ago, insisting that the original 10 August deadline should be adhered to. Reports say that gendarmes did nothing to stop them.

As dozens of hunters set out again on Sunday, a police helicopter reportedly hovered overhead, but no intervention was made.

In another area, Saint-Malo de Geursac in north-eastern France, 100 grey herons, ibis and egrets were discovered shot dead last week.

'Respectable'

Other hunters have taken to the streets to protest against the new law, saying their cultural rights are being eroded.

"Hunters are respectable people who want to practise while respecting spaces and species. But we have had enough," said Henri Sabarot, president of the local Hunters' Federation of Gironde, who were demonstrating in Hourtin, near Bordeaux on Monday.

The protest was outside a conference attended by French Education Minister Jack Lang.

Other hunters staged demonstrations throughout the Gironde and Loire-Atlantique regions over the weekend.

Election stake

There are an estimated 1.4m hunters in France, who, observers say, are making their voice heard ahead of next year's elections.

The situation is the result of a confusion in French law, which agrees with EU law in principle, but fails to be specific on hunting dates, says Michel Metais, general director of the League for the Protection of Birds.

"Mr Jospin wrote to the EU's environment commissioner to ask them advice on how to reconcile French law as it stands with European law - which should take at least a year and move the problem past the election deadline," he told BBC News Online.

"This is what we take issue with. It's also a way of showing his goodwill to the hunters," Mr Metais said.

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