HUNTERS IN the Algarve are being given carte blanche to practise their sport anywhere they please, it seems, due to an alarming lack of forest rangers (Guardas Florestais) and unsatisfactory action from the GNR.
Wherever and whenever – this is the worrying scenario that has come to light in the region in recent months. Since June last year, when the Direcção Geral dos Recursos Florestais that oversees the forestry police (Polícia Florestal) underwent a major re-organisation programme, there have been a mere handful of forest rangers to control a total of around 22,000 hunters in the Algarve. And the GNR has far too many other responsibilities aside from monitoring illegal hunting. Lack of policing, coupled with an increased number of hunting concessions (Zonas de Caça), makes it hardly surprising that there has been an increase in complaints of infringements. The situation is causing a nightmare for families living in country properties, many of which are at their wits’ end on how to deal with the problem.
Few patrols being made
Even the few rangers that exist are not out and about patrolling the countryside. Many of them have their time diverted to other duties, as there is a real lack of qualified personnel. “I believe lawbreakers feel they have more freedom now that they know rangers are too busy with other tasks to make regular patrols,” says Eng. Espírito Santo, former regional co-ordinator of Polícia Florestal, who is now a senior staff member of the technical hunting and fisheries department (Núcleo Florestal do Algarve).
Boasts from hunters in the press
Staff at Núcleo Florestal do Algarve have also been concerned to see hunters boasting about their exploits in the press. “It is outrageous, but we have even seen articles in local papers with people boasting about their obviously illegal activities. One hunter said he shot 65 thrushes in one morning. It’s clear this was only possible because he had begun before sunrise (legal hunting time) and had used illegal attracting devices that mimic the birds’ sounds.”
What is the law?
The legal hunting hours fall between sunrise and sunset and exact timings are published in the daily newspapers. Hunting outside these hours is against the law. Traditional hunting seasons are from October to December (rabbits, hares, partridge, wild boar and doves), and January and February (thrushes).
Hunters cannot hunt within 250m of property or within a 500m radius of a village (which may soon be brought down to only 250m), neither can they hunt within 100m either side of a national road. However, despite these laws, many house owners in the countryside are woken up by gun shots well before sunrise and find hunters shooting close to their houses, well within the 250m limit, even inside their back gardens.
Hunting concessions (Zonas de Caça)
If a hunting concession (privately managed hunting area) has been allowed to locate in an area near houses, residents can decide to agree for their land to be included within the concession. Eng. Espírito Santo believes this is often better for the homeowners because it means they know who the hunters are and, if there has been any intrusive activity, a complaint can be made directly to the concession’s management and problems are normally easier to resolve.
Legal contracts can be drawn up and it can be clearly stated in the agreement that, despite the land being included in the Zona de Caça, the hunters must not hunt within 250m of the property. Often a good relationship can be struck up, which means the hunters can enjoy their sport and the homeowners can be assured of a safe and undisturbed existence.
However, more and more hunting concessions have emerged in the Litoral and Barrocal over recent years, so many in fact that there is little “free land” left for hunters, who are not members of “Zonas de Caça” to use. This is one of the reasons why desperate hunters are intruding where they shouldn’t be.
Ruth Moore has lived for 20 years in Serro da Cabeça near Moncarapacho, an area that falls under Rede Natura 2000 and, therefore, is supposed to be protected. “In the beginning, there was the odd hunter coming through, but, in the last 10 years, the situation has got much worse. I was scared to even go in the garden to hang out my washing and I didn’t feel it was safe for my daughter to play outside due to all the lead,” she said.
On one occasion, when Ruth’s husband confronted the hunters to ask them to move outside the 250m limit, he was threatened with a gun. The GNR were called but the officers did not think the hunters were inside the 250m limit. Ruth said: “It is common knowledge that electricity posts are 50m apart and you could only count three between the hunters and our property so they were obviously only 150m away.” The problem, she feels, is that the rangers had special distance measuring guns, so they could see immediately when hunters were infringing legal limits, but the GNR do not have this specialist equipment.
Complaining made situation worse
Ruth Moore was forced to make many written complaints and has also been involved in putting petitions together. Due to these actions she feels that her land was sometimes targeted even more. Ruth also believes that too many hunting reserves have been authorised and non members think “We’ve got our guns and our licences, but where can we shoot?” Apparently, the situation at her property was not too bad during the hunting season that has just passed, and Ruth hopes it was not just a temporary reprieve.
Problems in Goldra valley
Another Algarve resident (who asked not to be named) has had problems with hunters intruding on his land in Gorjões in the Goldra valley. His message to the authorities is: “Either police the area properly or put a total ban on free hunting from the road south of Salir through to Barreiras Brancas.” This resident and his neighbours are so frustrated with the lack of control on hunters that a group of 40 people have got together to complain, in writing, to the GNR. He described what he feels is a ludicrous situation: “I’ve seen 10 guys at once, all trying to hunt in a very small space and there is nothing to shoot. I have even found broken up toilet seats – I didn’t even know they were in season!” he laughed sarcastically. In the land just below his house, he has found thousands of lead cartridges, which he points out “are toxic and are infiltrating the soil and the water table”.
Minority spoiling the sport for others
Hunting seems to be no different from football, in the sense that a minority spoil things for the rest and create a hooligan image. Some hunters are apparently drunk and despite having a licence, they don’t seem to be genuinely interested in hunting.
Problems could stop foreigners
investing in Algarve
Many believe that if something is not done soon, word of the problems will spread and foreign investors will be put off buying homes in the Algarve. “I noticed in the news that the Algarve was voted on British television as the top destination to buy a holiday home. Well, let’s just hope that word does not spread of these problems or it could spoil the Algarve’s image,” said Eng. Espírito Santo. The engineer even went as far as to say: “The Litoral and Barrocal should not be hunting areas anymore.” This, he explained, is because the Litoral and most of the Barrocal don’t have the conditions to be classified as cinegético (hunting) land and to permit shooting.
Hunters firing close to your house?
The Resident has been informed that if hunters are breaking the law and are too close to your property, the best course of action is to phone your local GNR station and ask to speak with “Serviços de Protecção da Natureza e Ambiente”, also called SEPNA. They have staff located in the GNR stations of Portimão, Faro and Tavira. It is best not to confront the hunters yourself as you could provoke aggressive situations. Go indoors and wait for the GNR to arrive.
Keep records of
complaints to the GNR
It is recommended to keep a careful note of all calls made to the GNR. Day, time, what department and who you spoke to. Write down what they said and note whether or not they responded. If you feel your complaints are not being properly attended to, you should complain in writing providing all the details. Complaints can be addressed to your local GNR chief or, if the matter is not resolved, you should write to the Algarve chief: Comandante Brigada Territorial do Algarve, Largo São Sebastião 18, 8000-155 Faro.
How can the Núcleo Florestal do
1. Offer advice 2. Explain the law
3. Check your draft contracts with Zona de Caça before they are signed
4. Organise non-hunting areas
Núcleo Florestal do Algarve – Tel 289 870 700, Fax 289 806 775Eng. Espírito Santo – Tel: 289 870 720
Other contacts for addressing
Secretary of State for Rural Development and Forestry, Rui Nobre Gonçalves (Secretário de Estado do Desenvolvimento Rural e das Florestas). Praça do Comércio, 1149-010 Lisboa. Tel: 213 234 652, Fax: 213 234 604, email [email protected], or visit www.min-agricultura.pt
If all other courses of action have failed, you should write to the Portuguese equivalent of an ombudsman:
Provedor de Justiça (Provedoria de Justiça) Rua do Pau de Bandeira, 7 e 9, 1249-088 Lisboa. Tel: 213 926 600 Fax: 213 961 243, email: [email protected]