Thousands of hunters marched in France on Saturday to defend “rural values” and traditional bird hunting which the country’s top administrative court has banned.
In the medieval town of Mont-de-Marsan in southwest France, authorities said at least 13,000 people protested to the sound of hunting horns and firecrackers.
Wearing bright orange — the colour of hunters’ jackets — the demonstrators marched under driving rain. Further up in Brittany, a protest also took place in Redon, and others were planned elsewhere.
“I’m sick of seeing my culture fall to pieces. They’ve already eradicated my language, Gascon, now it’s the traditional hunts,” said Eric, a 47-year-old who likes hunting and fishing, in Mont-de-Marsan.
He said he was fed up with “the Taliban of Paristan”, referring to decision-makers in the capital.
The State Council in August banned traditional hunting techniques popular in the southwest of France and other parts of the country, such as hunting with nets or bird cages, in line with a 2009 EU directive.
That followed the banning of glue hunting in June.
Activists say that 150,000 birds die annually in France from non-selective hunting techniques such as glue traps and nets at a time when Europe’s bird population is in free-fall.
But Myriam, the wife of a hunter and a fan of bullfighting, said she wanted to “pass on these traditions” to the younger generations.
“It’s not just hunting, it’s a complete way of life,” she said in Mont-de-Marsan.
A man next to her added: “Let the urbanites leave us alone!”
The government is mulling re-authorising some of these traditional hunts, to the dismay of environmental activists, in what is seen as a bid to woo voters ahead of elections next year.
There are about 1.2 million hunters in France, and together with their supporters and families, this could represent a pool of around five million voters.