January has been all about dossiers. A dossier is defined in English as a collection of documents about a particular person, event or subject. Larousse gives five definitions in French, one of which matches the English one in meaning but disappointingly fails to add that dossiers are as essential to life in France as food. Everything, but everything requires the compilation of a dossier, and trust me, size matters.

I’ve completed three dossiers this month, one of them colossal but more about that another time. The one I want to focus on is the first one I did.

You may recall from a recent blog post how upset Chris and I were at witnessing an injured deer being pursued by dogs across a lake, a distressing scene which we came across whilst walking along a public footpath in the Brenne. (I wrote to the Brenne tourist board about it but have been studiously ignored.) That incident decided us. We’d grudgingly tolerated hunting up to that point, not being supporters of it in any way but very aware that, as incomers, we had to tread carefully. And to be fair our local hunt have behaved fairly decently on the whole and always informed us if they might be crossing our land and if that was OK. They’ve never actually hunted on it but have cut across it from time to time. Whenever we’ve said no, you can’t, generally because the angling seasons was underway and we had clients on the lakes, then they’ve gone elsewhere.

However, over the years we’ve become increasingly annoyed by the noise of nearby hunters, by the lost hunting dogs that stray onto our land and help themselves to chickens, by the sheer dangerousness of the so-called sport. High power rifles can shoot bullets up to 3 km, and hunters are only prevented from coming within 150 metres of a dwelling. The majority of hunters, 82%, are 55 years old or over, with more than a third of them being 65 or older. Reflex speed and eyesight decline with age, meaning there are many accidents waiting to happen. And they do, year after year. Hunters accidentally shoot each other, but far worse, take out completely innocent members of the public. This current season has seen the fatal shooting of a motorist on a major road.

We’ve thus decided to outright ban hunting on our land. We did our research and discovered that sadly, this isn’t as easy as it might appear. Despite them representing somewhere around 1.7% of the population, hunters have rights out of all proportion. And whilst many claim ‘tradition’ as some sort of justification for these disproportionate rights, most of the current legislation only dates back to the 1960s although a few laws from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries still hold sway. I think it’s probably time those ones were archived.

The environmental code states that a hunter doesn’t have the right to come onto private land without permission. But then immediately it goes into a long list of exceptions. These have mainly arisen from the 1964 loi Verdeille, promoted by a particularly hunt-crazy member of parliament. This same law established ACCAs (Associations Communales de Chasse Agréées) which became allegedly responsible for ensuring that hunting in the area is properly managed. Laughably, since 2012 they are also now responsible for protection of the environment. Yes, by charging through it and severely disturbing if not killing the wildlife.

This same law bizarrely pre-supposed that land owners implicitly consented to hunters coming on to their property. Only if you had a certain amount of land, and adequate fencing, could you tell hunters to get lost. Whilst nationally the figure was set at 20 hectares, a few areas have larger minimum areas due to ministerial decrees, Creuse unfortunately being one of these. The minimum here is 60 hectares! How can such a discrepancy be allowed? Not exactly the egalité that this country is so fond of.

This crazy state of affairs was finally challenged in the European Court of Justice by some landowners and in 2000 changes were made to the law. You no longer need a certain amount of land to be able to ban hunting on it: you can now ban it on grounds of personal convictions. Initially you could withdraw your land immediately, but there was such a rush of people removing their land from the hunters’ domain that this pathetically small percentage of the populations somehow or other managed to get the time-scale changed. You can still apply to withdraw your land any time, but the ACCA will only recognise your removal when they update their records every five years, on their ‘anniversary’. And your dossier withdrawing your land must be sent in more than six months before this renewal date. Would you believe it, but our local ACCA’s next renewal date turned out to be April 2022. We thus have to wait until 2027 to be legally hunt free. I could, and did, cry – a lot.

The dossier I had to send in consisted of proof of our ownership of our land, a list of all the parcels of it and a map. We had to be sure to include every bit of our land in the application otherwise that would have made it null and void. The relevant rules also put the frighteners on you, saying you will become fully responsible for any damage done by wildlife based on your land. That would be something very hard to prove as wildlife roams and it’s hard to say where exactly it ‘comes’ from. Only one case taken to court, involving rabbits, has ever been successful against a landowner. Also, you have to put up a sign saying that hunting is banned on your land. One such sign will do, but you frequently see mentions on pro-hunting sites of having to have one every 30 metres. That’s utter rubbish.

I sent that dossier to the Federation of Hunters in Creuse in by recorded delivery and have the proof of receipt safely in my possession. We will hear back within four months, no doubt confirming 2027 as the withdrawal date. So our plans for our land to become a wildlife refuge will become a retirement project!

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