French Minister enforces ban on poaching to spare Ortolan
Nicolas Hulot has ordered gendarmes to crack down on poachers who capture ortolan buntings (Emberiza hortulana) .
The white knight of French ecology has infuriated gastronomes by riding to the rescue of a tiny songbird that they consider to be a delicacy.
Nicolas Hulot, who has similar standing in France to Sir David Attenborough in Britain, was made minister for ecological transition in President Macron’s government. He has since ordered gendarmes to crack down on poachers who capture ortolan buntings, birds that the French often cook whole after marinating them in Armagnac, despite laws meant to protect them.
His promise of “zero tolerance” was met with stupefaction in southwest France, where the 20-gram birds are eaten. Mr Hulot told gendarmes to reinforce anti-poaching surveillance operations and to prosecute those arrested for catching or selling the birds. Regional politicians from across the spectrum, including Mr Macron’s own La République en Marche party, promptly began a counter-campaign.
It is already illegal to hunt the bird, which is a protected species in danger of extinction. In practice, however, thousands of ortolan buntings are caught in southwest France in late summer every year and gendarmes make distinctly half-hearted efforts to stop them.
The birds are fattened for a few weeks, drowned in Armagnac, plucked, stewed and eaten whole. Diners cover their heads in a linen napkin to ensure total silence and concentration and so that no one can see the blood running down their chins.
Napoleon III, Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers, and François Mitterrand, president between 1981 and 1995, had a particular fondness for the birds.Mr Hulot, who became famous by making nature programmes for television, has other ideas. “The practice of poaching ortolan buntings is illegal,” he said. “It must stop.”Pointing out that there had been an 84 per cent drop in the ortolan bunting population in Europe between 1980 and 2012, Mr Hulot said poaching “creates an important risk for the survival of the species at a time when the natural environment of this bird is threatened by global warming and the urbanisation that detroys its habitat”.
Jean-Louis Carrère, the Socialist senator for Landes in southwest France, who implicitly admitted that he was a bird hunter, was appalled. “I wonder if it is not us who are being hunted now — a hunt for old men of 80 years old from the Landes whose passion, and only fault, was to put down a few traps,” he said.
Source: The Times UK