The wolves next door
In many parts of Europe, people share their land and lives with bears, wolves and lynx. On 10 June 2014, the European Commission hosted the launch of the ‘EU Platform on Coexistence between People and Large Carnivores’.
Bears, lynx, wolves and wolverines: large predators arouse strong emotions. Sitting at the top of the food chain, they are relatively small in number but highly charismatic. And they loom large in the European imagination, from the folk tales of La Fontaine, the brothers Grimm onwards: think of Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and the Three Bears or the Big Bad Wolf.
About 18 000 brown bears live in the EU today, as well as 10 000 wolves, 10 000 lynx, and 2000 wolverines. Whereas one-quarter of European native species are now at risk of extinction, largely due to the disappearance of their habitats, some European carnivores have seen a resurgence, in contrast with global trends. This has been a mainly natural process due to a combination of conservation efforts, such as legal protection, some reintroductions, and other factors such as the increase of forest cover and game numbers, as well as rural migration to cities.
With support from the European Commission, eight key European stakeholder organisations have set up the ‘EU Platform on Coexistence between People and Large Carnivores’. Its focus is on dialogue: to share experience, reduce misunderstandings and agree solutions to conflicts arising from the coexistence of people with large predators.
“EU nature legislation, and our collective efforts to implement it, is undoubtedly one of the main reasons why trends associated with large carnivores in Europe haven’t followed those in the rest of the world,” said European Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potočnik at the launch. “Large carnivores, which are seen by many as symbols of the wilderness, have shown an incredible ability to adapt, and even thrive, in modern-day European landscapes.”
But for people living in the areas where these animals roam and hunt – three-quarters of EU Member States are home to at least one of the large carnivore species – they can present real challenges.
“We need to treat our natural neighbours with respect,” said Commissioner Potočnik, “but we also need to heed the concerns of those whose lives are genuinely affected by their close proximity.”
In its work, the new platform will build on the achievements of the EU Habitats Directive and the agreement between the European Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation and the conservation organisation BirdLife on sustainable hunting under the Birds Directive.
“I believe that large carnivores offer an opportunity to create a new and more constructive approach to resolving broader societal conflicts and tensions,” said the Commissioner, “one that is symbolic of a modern Europe that merges the best of traditional practices with the best of the future.”
Tolerance by humans for non-human neighbours and between farmers, hunters and conservationists across borders, good governance – based on dialogue and compromise – and use of knowledge to address conflicts: the agreement reflects a European model of nature conservation, integrating different interests across a common landscape.
The first meeting discussed a work plan that will start in the autumn.