The Rise of the Wolf in Europe

The wolf is on the rise in Europe. In the winter of 2017–18, wolves finally re-appeared in Belgium, the last country from which it had been absent.

The wolf is protected by EU law, but a rising tide of hostility is encouraging some politicians to push to kill it. France approved a cull of up to 40 wolves following protests last year. When Germany’s wolf population reached 60 packs, its agriculture minister argued that culling was required.  Finland has reduced its wolf population to 150, and Norway is reducing its wolf population of less than 100 animals to 50.

Norway’s government offers financial support to help wolf-troubled farmers switch from sheep to cattle, but it is difficult to change as summer pastures won’t always support cattle instead of sheep. In addition, Norway’s upland pastures are not very productive, and flocks cannot be securely fenced in small areas like in other European countries.

Many farmers would rather Norway’s small wolf population was non-existent. The original Scandinavian population died out in the 1950s. The ‘new generation’ of wolves have descended from the big Finnish-Russian wolf population.

Since the first wolf pack arrived in Germany in 2000, the country has led the way in how to adapt to the return of the wolf. Many German states have ‘wolf commissioners’ who work with farmers to provide them with electric fences and livestock guard dogs. Farmers receive financial support (up to €15,000 [£13,000] over three years in Brandenburg) and generous compensation for dead livestock.

Public education has encouraged acceptance. The government-funded Wolves in Saxony programme educates local people, takes wolf scats into schools (studies show the German wolf’s diet is roe deer, followed by red deer and wild boar) and children There is an ecological level where the wolf will get to a stable population, but the other question is where the acceptance level of the human population is. If people are not used to something, they are afraid. When the wolves are introduced to an area, there is lots of hesitation and people are wary of the presence of wolves.

While Germany has made efforts to adapt to the wolf, the rest of Northern Europe is less keen on their presence. There is more willingness to live alongside wolves in southern Europe, such as with the 3,000 wolves on the Iberian Peninsula.

According to Guilluame Chapron, a Swedish professor of ecology, Europe must learn from Africa. He claims that it is insulting to the world that one of the richest countries, Norway, cannot have more than 50 wolves, considering Botswana, Mozambique and other extremely poor countries in Africa, are working really very hard to keep their lions. Imagine the outcry if those nations sought to kill half of their lions. He concludes saying that ‘we need African countries to teach us, rich Europeans, how to live with predators.’

Gray Wolf
Source: dalliedee, via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Around Europe

French farmers claim 10,000 animals are killed each year by wolves, costing them €26m.

In 2018, Sweden plans to cull 22 wolves out of its population of 355.

Romania has one of the largest wolf populations of EU nations, about 2,500 wolves.

In Spain, the Iberian wolf was almost hunted to extinction in the 1970s, but it has since recovered to about 3,000 on the Iberian Peninsula, including Portugal.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of state-funded culling saw a near 50% increase in wolf populations. Many packs moved into Finland, Belarus, and then Poland and Eastern Europe

Germany has about 160 wolves, a small fraction of Spain’s or Romania’s.

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