‘For a shooting booth you have to go to the fair, not to the polder’ – Belgium

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Biologist and K.nackjournalist Dirk Draulans witnessed a sickening massacre.

Friday evening, August 7. I just saw a rare pygmy eagle pass by at home. The euphoria is great. We sit in the garden enjoying ourselves until suddenly all hell breaks loose in the polder to the north of my house. Literally. A volley of shots shatters the evening polder rest. It has been a long time since I did war reporting for Knack, but this came close.

Friday evening, August 7. I just saw a rare pygmy eagle pass by at home. The euphoria is great. We sit in the garden enjoying ourselves until all of a sudden all hell breaks loose in the polder north of my house. Literally. A volley of shots shatters the evening polder rest. It has been a long time since I did war reporting for Knack, but this came close. I crawled up the dike to view the polder landscape and saw some movement in the middle of the fields, but I couldn’t make much of it. It remained silent. Back down then, to the fun in the garden, but a little later another volley broke loose, even worse than the first. This couldn’t be true, the official hunting season has not even started. There had to be more going on here. Armed with a telescope, binoculars and notebook I pulled up the dike again and settled under the poplars. It would be two sickening hours. What I got to see defies the imagination. People sometimes ask me what I have against hunters (more correctly, against the majority of hunters), and at times like that I feel it in every fiber of my body: how can you deal with such a complete disrespect for animals? lay the day? In a moat in the middle of the polder, seven ‘men’ sat hidden, in full battle dress (they were five men, a woman and a youth – I think only the men had a gun). Two others in an off-road vehicle provided logistical support. There was a dog. Along the moat lined up 22 wooden decoys painted in the colors of geese: Canada goose, barnacle goose, greylag goose and Egyptian goose. From their cover, the great heroes shot straight up into the air every time a group of geese flew over. The site is less than half a kilometer from the Putten West nature reserve, where hundreds of geese come to rest after foraging in the polders. So it is a constant va-et-vient of flying geese there. Most of the animals didn’t even land there. It was an ordinary shooting booth. The rulers didn’t even have to aim, they just shot up when geese flew over. Often the geese flew far too high to be killed. You could see that they were hit by their sudden movements, but they flew on. Some of them undoubtedly faced a long agony. About half of the geese shot were still alive when they crashed to the ground. Some were recovered by the dog or by one of the shooting heroes, some remained dying in the polder. I think that at the end of his death feast, the party took about twenty, barnacle goose, greylag goose and Egyptian goose. The scene was very reminiscent of the nauseating shooting stalls on French beaches, where firecrackers hide in a hut on the beach, around which they have placed dozens of decoys. They fire everything they can get their hands on for fun, because the waders they get their guns don’t eat much. Species for which Belgians and Dutch are making major conservation efforts, such as curlew and black-tailed godwit, are simply diverted because it is possible. It is incomprehensible that this nature-unfriendly practice cannot be eradicated in modern Europe. Flemish hunters will say that their action in the polder was different. Geese can be controlled if they cause damage, or be ‘particularly hunted’ if they threaten to cause damage. There are legal rules for this, including a notification requirement. I am seeking legal advice to see if we can bring this barbarism to court – I have listed four car number plates, but even if this would have been legally correct, the question remains what is the point of such a unpleasant happen. Hunters like to pretend that they make themselves useful to society by controlling ‘nuisance’ from animals. But you have to be stuck in your self-made hunter logic to even hope that this way you change something in a natural situation. By haphazardly shooting a few dozen geese out of the sky, you are not interfering with their population. Last week I already counted 750 barnacle geese in the nature reserve Doelpolder Noord alone, and the week before more than 800 greylag geese. I once counted 480 Egyptian geese in the nature reserve Putten West. In the winter I once saw more than 3000 barnacle geese. According to counts by the Institute for Nature and Forest Research (INBO), more than 10,000 geese hibernate in the polder region. That means that the action of the shooting heroes will not have any effect whatsoever as a ‘control measure’. It is no more than an ordinary fairground attraction for people who are happy that they get an opportunity to shoot animals from the sky, just like that. The question is whether we should continue to tolerate this as a society. I don’t think so. I will bring this issue to the attention of the competent minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA), who has already shown that she is less sensitive to the arguments of the hunter lobby than her predecessors. Hunters have developed a specific vision of nature, of which the basic idea is that they are the only ones who know how to do it. In this context, they regularly talk about the ‘excesses’ of nature managers who catch and exterminate moulting geese, for example by gassing them. It is regrettable that it has to be done now and then, but compared to the silly boom in the thirst of last Friday, this is an extremely ‘humane’ way of working. Moreover, in this way you can locally remove a substantial part of a population, so that you can generate an effect – at least temporarily -. That is not the case with the ridiculous shooting – disguised – as – combat. There is regular reference from hunter circles to the fact that I have never responded to the shooting of two foxes in the nature reserve Putten West by the managing bodies of the Agency for Nature and Bos (ANB). I’m sorry, gentlemen hunters, but no matter how unfortunate it is for your self-baked beliefs: that was responsible, because efficient management. Its yield was 100 percent, that of the Friday night massacre 0.0. You have to be a hunter to not understand that. These foxes were in fact during the breeding season in a nature reserve where, according to Flemish standards, large numbers of groundbrothers, such as godwits and avocets, occur. Investments had been made to enclose the area with a wire that is ‘fox proof’: no ​​fox will come through anymore. Then it is of course a shame that there appear to be foxes within the wire. The result of the interventions was indeed: I have never seen more young lapwings and avocets than this year, thanks to those anti-fox measures. I am also sure that the majority of the 12,000 foxes killed by hunters every year in Flanders die needlessly, because it makes no difference whatsoever to population regulation, neither for the fox itself, nor for the species it would kill. No, gentlemen hunters, Friday’s barbaric massacre once again demonstrated the blatant disrespect not only of the average hunter’s solid natural science, but also of the most basic rules around animals and animal welfare. Where is the ‘vastness’ so praised by your propagandists in this event? No, this kind of ‘inhumanity’ is outdated. For a shooting booth you have to go to the fair, not to the polder.

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