Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Vexed and Vexing Question: Hunting in Tuscany

The reality in those hills

What follows is not an apology for hunting, nor is it an outright critique. It is intended as more of a review of the current situation in the region of Tuscany.  

In provincial Tuscany, on the whole, hunting  is considered not only an ancient right, but a necessity. For centuries people lived off the land, relying on their own strengths to make a living, to feed their families: in short, to survive. Hunting was an essential part of this process. In addition, farmers, as all the world over, attempted to protect their flocks, their crops and their families from the incursions of the wild. Once upon a time wolves roamed these hills, and although boar are not indigenous, they were introduced a long time ago.

Hunting for food and protection was a natural activity springing from basic needs. 

Nowadays hunting has partly evolved into a 'recreational' pursuit and its practitioners are by and large middle-aged men who spend the day in company with their fellows on weekends and/or when hunting is permitted. These hunting parties can easily involve one hundred participants. The Lucullian all-male feasts which complete the end of the hunt are an important part of this recreational aspect. 

In addition there is a class of rather younger men employed or given permission to cull the teeming thousands of deer; this activity is frequently carried out by pairs or even single hunters who use hides in trees and telescopic lenses to catch their prey. Having translated the text below I now realize that many birds are also hunted for culling purposes, because they spoil crops; how precisely this is carried out is unclear to me.

Thus hunters (and many farmers) argue that today hunting is still a necessity, that they are controlling the populations of certain species which would otherwise overrun the countryside (in the case of the deer I have to admit that the risk is real, this site claims there are 200,000 roe deer, and 200,000 boar in Tuscany alone); they would also claim that they are protecting farmlands from depredation (by birds and mammals) which may occasionally be true.

Yet this logic is not consistent for all species since, for example, the boar are fed during the year. You don't feed a beast to control its population, you feed it to fatten it and encourage it to produce more offspring. In addition, hunting is not the only solution of overpopulation. Contraception, deterrents and transferral of animals are far more humane approaches.

Nowadays hunting is highly regulated, as will be clear from my translation below of the norms and permitted times published each year by the Province of Siena, the Calendario Venatorio. The constraints are temporal, territorial, organizational and methodological. 

Whether and how these constraints are enforced I do not know; but if other rules and regulations in Italy are anything to go by, it is quite likely that they are flouted in practice. 

What is verifiable is that hunters certainly follow the calendar. With their shots ringing out over the hills and valleys, it would be difficult to explain away a bit of light poaching let alone a full hunt, even in our extensive woodlands.


The hunting season begins the 3rd Sunday in September and ends on January 31st each year.
Hunting is permitted 3 days per week: the licence-holder can choose between Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
Between October 1st and November 30th, hunters can hunt migratory fowl  using up their entire seasonal quota of days on any of the above days.
Hunting is allowed from one hour before sunrise until sunset with specific timetables according to daylight saving time and the change back to standard time. There are some exceptions,with regard to hoofed creatures and woodcocks [of all things].
Hunting is allowed, also with a dog, either stalking or from a blind but this can be regulated by individual provinces.
Hides cannot be made of material from agriculture or woodlands but only from unprotected wild brush and grasses and must be dismantled after use...Access to these hides is allowed only with a dismantled gun or with a gun in its case.
The hunter must pick up his used cartridges.[definitely not respected, we pick up dozens each season]
Woodcocks cannot be hunted from a hide and the province can decide how woodcocks can be hunted (with or without dogs etc).
Hare hunting can be carried out with a maximum of 7 participants.
For each hunting day the overall bag limit must not exceed 2 sedentary wildfowl and 20 migratory fowl or, per hunter, must not exceed:
1 hare; 8 in total web-footed fowl, wading birds or sea birds; 3 woodcocks; 10 collared doves
For hoofed animals subject to culling the numbers are registered in the official forms of the cullers.
Safety: all hunters participating in a wild boar hunting party must wear highly visible colours and have undergone training regarding the safety rules for hunting.
Dog training and exercise is allowed on predetermined days from the third Sunday of August until the Thursday before the third Sunday in September from sunrise to 11 and from 14 to 19. Training is permitted only for hunters enrolled in the ATC (Territorial Hunting Zone) and is not permitted in agricultural areas...
The hunter must be a card holder and the card must be valid for the entire national territory, issued by the city council of residence, subsequent to presentation of an up-to-date hunting licence and receipt affirming that the card was returned from the previous season...
At the start of a hunting day the hunter must indicate with a black indelible pen the date and place of the hunt. He must also indicate eventual changes in location and whether he intends to make use of the option to hunt migratory fowl over an extended period, thereby using up his hunting quota. After the hunt, he must indicate every item caught.
The hunting card permits an overall number of days equal to those available to each hunter for the entire hunting season. All hunting days must be summed up within this limit...
The card is the means to check the number and species of animal hunted and for this purpose must be returned to the city council by March 20 each year.
For the culling of deer, the provinces issue licensed hunters with a special card in which to indicate hunting days and numbers caught up to completion of the culling quotas...
According to the indications of provincial hunting plans, the Provinces allow, subject to approval by the Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA), culling programmes of hoofed creatures distinguished by sex and age which indicate the periods according to the regulations in force.
Based on choices made in provincial hunting plans, the Region can allow, upon request of the Provinces, on the first day of hunting in September and the following Sunday, the hunting from blinds of the following species:
turtle dove; wood pigeon; blackbird; magpie; jay; hooded crow. The Region can also allow, upon request of the provinces, in dams or other artificial water basins, hunting from blinds of:
teal; mallard; garganey. On opening days of hunting the daily bag of wood pigeon must not exceed 5; blackbird 4; webfooted fowl 4, overall....
The training and exercising of dogs is forbidden during hunting days.
In addition, in hunting reserves  are allowed, according to the provincial plans, the hunting of the following species bred for the purpose: mallard; red-legged partridge; grey partridge; quail; hare in fenced-in areas, until January 31. For hoofed animals in fenced-in areas hunting is permitted from August 1st until March 15 even in areas covered by snow.
The Provinces can, following indications of the ATC, forbid the hunting of pheasant, except in hunting reserves, between January 1st and 31st.
The Provinces are trying to eliminate the Eastern cottontail rabbit from all their territories. During the hunting season the hunting of the Eastern cottontail is allowed.
9-12 - Omissis
In the ATC territories the introduction of game is allowed from the end of the hunting season of that species until August 15 of each year, excepting for areas where hunting is forbidden.
For violations of any of the above norms penalties are applied according to current law. The penalty for not returning the hunting card varies between 5 to 30 euros.
For any aspect not covered by the above, the current regulations are considered applicable.
Hunting of the following species for the periods indicated is authorised:
21 September to 31 December 2014:
wild rabbit; blackbird; quail; turtle dove; pheasant. In the hunting reserves and specific areas indicated by the ATC the Provinces can authorise the hunting of pheasant in January 2015 according to specific plans
21 September to 30 November:
red-legged partridge and grey partridge. The Provinces can determine limits to the areas and periods but these do not apply to hunting reserves
1 October to 31 December: skylark
21 September to 8 December: hare
21 September to 30 October: ruff
1 October to 19 January: woodcock
1 October to 31 January: fieldfare; redwing
1 November to 31 January: tufted duck
21 September to 31 January: song thrush; teal; snipe; gadwall; pintail; wood pigeon; hooded crow; wigeon; coot; jack snipe; moorhen; magpie; mallard; jay; garganey; shoveler, pochard, lapwing, water rail; fox
The following cautionary seasonal bag limits are established for the species:
skylark: 100 per hunter
pintail, quail, turtle dove and lapwing: 25 per species per hunter
woodcock and tufted duck: 20 per species per hunter
ruff and red-legged partridge: 10 per species per hunter
grey partridge: 5 per hunter
It is forbidden to use lead shot in any of the water areas of the Tuscan Region, such as lakes, dams, ponds, marshes, freshwater, saltwater or briny lagoons

Provincial Integrations for the Hunting Calendar 2014-2015
[most of the above with small variations, plus:]
Stalking and dog use: In the period from 1 to 31 January hunting over the entire territory is permitted only from blinds accessed with gun unloaded, dismantled or in its case.
Over the same period stalking with a dog is allowed only for fox, following the guidelines below.
From 1 to 19 January stalking woodcocks is allowed with a pointer or retriever in wooded areas within areas for wild boar hunting
For safety reasons those hunting woodcocks must wear brightly coloured clothes.
In the periods in which blinds are permitted, in order to retrieve game, the use of retriever dogs is allowed, if controlled by their owner, with a range of 150m from the blind and not within 50m of where other hunting is being carried out
Fox hunting in the territories where hunting is permitted from 21 September to 31 December, is allowed with hounds. From 1 to 31 January fox hunting is only allowed in the traditional form with a dog and a minimum of 8 participants, with prior communication to the Province...
Wild boar hunting: takes place in dedicated areas with assigned teams of hunters [up to100 participants at times]; in the areas which are not dedicated to boar hunting, boars can be killed singly, even with the use of dogs, from October 1 to November 30. In the same period in these zones group interventions are permitted, prior to supervision by the ATC...
For roe deer: the young can be hunted from 1 January to 15 March, all males from 15 June to 14 July and 16 August to 29 September; the females from 1 January to 15 March. For fallow deer: 1 January to 15 march for females and young; 1 to 29 September for 2 year old males; 1 November to 15 March for older deer...
The Province of Siena has requested that the Tuscan Region allow a modification for the hunting of pigeon and starling, to limit the damage caused to agriculture by these species. In addition it will request the anticipation of the season for dove, wood pigeon, blackbird, magpie, jay, hooded crow, pigeon and starling.. [This last measure is highly criticised by bird protection and environmental groups]

Even if this post attempts to present a dispassionate overview, some of the above really chills the blood. Yet why does it seem more barbarous to kill 100 skylarks than a wild boar or marauding deer? Perhaps because skylarks are more vulnerable and so inoffensive...and they are migratory birds, shot during their seasonal flight south; there can be no excuses about the necessity to kill them. And if they really are shot for food, what is there to eat on a lark: larks' tongues? On the other hand, I looked up their 'pest' status and discovered that they can be predators of newly-sown crops (winter wheat germinations, for example).**

Passions run high in Italy over hunting in general. Obviously most city dwellers see no sense in it and criticize its barbarity. Country people, even if against it, are less outspoken for the hunting lobby is powerful in these parts. Our engineer once warned us about getting on the wrong side of the hunters; 'They might play some tricks on you,' he muttered. It is they, or their representatives on the city council who are possibly blocking our fence (see side column saga).

There are many stories associated with hunting here. Some are historic, some are local, some even happened to us.

Giovanni Boccaccio in his Decameron tells the delightful tale of Chichibio (pron. Kikibio) and the Crane. Here is a full translation in suitably antiquated English (note that the story takes place at Peretola where now there is Florence's airport), but I shall give an abbreviated version:

Chichibio the cook roasts a crane caught by his master Currado's falcon; his girlfriend asks him to give her one of the succulent legs. When the crane is served Currado is angry and demands to know what has happened to the leg. Chichibio exclaims that cranes have only one leg and offers to prove this by showing Currado some live cranes. This he does the next day, for each crane is resting on one leg. But when Currado shouts, the cranes lower their other leg and fly off. Chichibio protests that had he shouted at the roasted crane it too would have lowered its other leg. This retort makes Currado laugh so much that he forgives his quick-witted cook.

A true tale, which seems well known all over our neighbouring Comune involves a blacksmith and another crane, a very rare crane which the blacksmith was stalking near a dam not far from Radda in Chianti. The blacksmith thought that this was a great opportunity to add to his stuffed animal collection and so he shot at the crane, well-knowing that it was a protected bird. Unfortunately for him, and fortunately for the crane, which he only wounded, some representatives of the WWF happened to be birdwatching at the dam that day and witnessed everything. They took the blacksmith to the police who made him pay for an ambulance to take the wounded creature to a special bird sanctuary near Livorno, where the crane's life was indeed saved. The blacksmith also had to pay a fine; however, if he had killed the bird, the penalty would have been much heavier.

The third story happened to us when we first lived at Le Ripe. One night we were sleeping in the heavenly peace and quiet when suddenly, around midnight, war broke out. On the hill above us shots rang out, there were shouts and the firing came down the hill towards the house and then went beyond. It was mayhem, and we got quite a fright.
Of course the readers of this post will have already guessed what was going on, but in those days we were city innocents abroad.
It turns out that the hunters of Panzano had run out of prey and so one night got onto our hill (which is part of the Castellina hunting squad's territory) to frighten the boar over into their territory. They were not shooting the boar (that would have been illegal - by night and in the wrong zone) but were letting off firecrackers to make the herd move north towards Panzano (which was bad form if not illegal). 
Our fright was nothing compared to what the boars were experiencing, but it was a salutary lesson for us about what really goes on in our beautiful hills.

 ** An article just published in The Guardian warns that the numbers of migratory birds in Britain (many of which pass over southern Europe and its watchful hunters) are radically diminishing because of habitat loss, climate change - and hunting.

I have just been alerted to an interesting exhibition in Florence which might shed some light on man's relations with the animal world. The exhibition draws on the riches in the Biblioteca Laurenziana (part of the San Lorenzo complex) and is called Animalia. This link gives a glimpse of the exhibition which is on until January 10th 2015.

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