Yves Lecocq: “hunting for the conservation of biodiversity in Europe”

Yves Lecocq: “hunting for the conservation of biodiversity in Europe”

Interview with Dr. Yves LECOCQ, Secretary General of FACE, the Federation of Associations for Hunting and Biodiversity in the EU.

The New Federalist: Dr. LECOCQ, you are following European conservation and hunting politics since 1983. Could you briefly tell the readers some facts about your background and about FACE – what it is and how it developed?

Yves Lecocq: Yes, of course. FACE, the Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation of the EU is an international NGO set up back in 1977 to act at the level of the European and international institutions in the interests of its Member organisations – currently in 36 European countries, representing over 7,000,000 European hunters. In accordance with the principle of wise and sustainable use of natural resources, FACE promotes hunting as a tool for biodiversity conservation and for safeguarding the countryside and its people. To that end, it informs decision and policy-makers, as well as media and the general public on relevant issues, while at the same time raising awareness among all sectors and stakeholders for sustainable hunting and biodiversity conservation. Personally, I joined FACE in 1983, with a background in conservation, ornithology and deer management, and a degree in Veterinary medicine. In the meantime, the Brussels’ based FACE team includes 10 full-time committed professionals.

The New Federalist: You mention biodiversity in your answer. Through your experience and knowledge of the different aspects of biodiversity, what does its loss imply for FACE and its goals?

Yves Lecocq: Without a doubt, conservation of biodiversity is essential for wildlife and ecosystems and further loss would be detrimental to hunting activities. Hunters form a well-organised community that safeguards and sustainably manages large areas of the European countryside. As hunters, we are aware of our responsibilities in our interaction with nature and wildlife, as well as of the need for hunters to ensure that huntable species and their habitats continue to have (or are restored to) a favourable conservation status.

The New Federalist: In terms of concepts, aren’t hunting and conservation a bit contradictory?

Yves Lecocq: No, actually the opposite. The fact is that it is directly in the hunters’ interests to invest efforts in the protection of biodiversity, the preservation of habitats, and the safeguarding of Europe’s countryside. Hunting provides incentives for conservation of wild species and for the preservation, management and restoration of their habitats. Hedgerows and arable field margins are managed for small game; inland ponds, wet grassland and saltmarshes for wildfowl; woodlands and upland areas provide territory for deer and other ungulate populations. This is precisely why FACE is fully committed to the Council of Europe’s European Charter on Hunting and Biodiversity and to the European Commission’s Sustainable Hunting Initiative, further actively promoting the NATURA 2000 network.

The New Federalist: What role can hunters play in facing the uncertainty of climate change and its effects on wildlife?

Yves Lecocq: The distribution, seasonal movements, behaviour and reproduction success of our wildlife are all largely influenced by climatic factors, and it is predicted that climate change is likely to affect the majority of species, including game species of particular interest to hunters. Hunters are indeed well aware of the effects that weather has on wildlife e.g. movements of waterbirds during cold-spells, reduced survival of young due to prolonged rainfall or drought. That’s why Europe’s 7 million hunters are ideal “monitors” on the ground for detecting change in wildlife, and in the face of such an uncertain future, that kind of information is highly valuable in responding to the challenges that climate change poses. An example of such a useful monitoring effort by hunters was clearly demonstrated during the Avian Influenza outbreaks in wild birds in 2006. To mitigate the pressures facing wildlife resulting from climate change, hunters’ and their organisations, including FACE, advocate measures to strengthen vulnerable populations, to restore key habitats and to improve the interconnectivity of habitats and countryside ecosystems.

The New Federalist: There seems to be a lot of talk of a food crisis taking hold in Europe. What about your proposals to solve the problem of increasing prices through land use for energy?

Yves Lecocq: Globalisation means that our food is increasingly travelling over longer distances before it gets to our table, and higher transport costs and competition for land-use contribute to what media call a “food crisis”. Increased awareness of consumers and a number of spectacular food safety crises are also influencing the market. Part of the solution may be literally in our backyard: people should start getting used to buying food grown locally and during the appropriate season, and wild game meat is certainly an excellent alternative to products from the bio-industry. Contrary to popular misconceptions, game meat is not expensive – certainly not when provided by the local hunter – and not difficult to prepare. It is healthy, tender and has a natural taste – in fact the prototype of an organically-grown product, in line with a trend many health-conscious Europeans are adopting. That’s also why FACE cooperates closely with the European Commission (DG SANCO) for the proper implementation of EU hygiene en health Regulations applicable to wild game meat.

The New Federalist: But managing wild populations and “harvesting” meat from wild game implies that animals need to be killed. Is that not becoming increasingly unaccepted by society at large?

Yves Lecocq: It is true that over the last few years, the concepts of animal rights and of animals as “non-human persons” have received significant public attention, not in the least as a result of media campaigns by activist groups. FACE expects to see this trend continue in the near future. There is indeed a tendency at the level of the EU, influenced by an increasingly urbanised public opinion, towards mixing animal welfare considerations with wildlife conservation, despite the fact that the EU as such has no legal competence for the welfare of wild animals. FACE, its Members and individual hunters are well aware that hunting needs to take place under the strictest possible ethical standards and to eliminate all avoidable animal suffering – something which is addressed in the Council of Europe’s Charter. There is further a need to explain the role of hunting to the public and to establish alliances with other countryside sectors (such as the farming community, animal breeders, anglers, etc.) targeted by this ideological animal rights movement.

The New Federalist: Finally, what does the future hold for hunters in Europe and in particular, what does hunting mean for young people?

Yves Lecocq: A development which we will see in the future is a increasing connection between the right or the privilege to hunt and the duty or responsibility towards conservation. Traditionally, hunters have always had respect and understanding for nature, but they must realise that people living in an urbanised environment may have lost touch with the realities of wildlife management and the countryside. It is therefore up to the hunters’ community to explain and to demonstrate how nature requires being managed and how hunting can be part of the solution, rather than of the problem. Young people are increasingly open to this message and they are the future of sustainable hunting! Hunting is an activity which requires a lot of discipline, skills and knowledge. FACE is convinced – and with us many other people – that these traditional values still have a future. And that is an optimistic message for those who care about biodiversity, nature and wildlife in Europe.

Image: hunter; source: Europa

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