Local Skip Hire and Waste Management Companies

After being hunted to near extinction, wolves have returned to Europe. But when one killed Ursula von der Leyen’s family pony, it ignited a high-stakes battle. Are the animals’ days numbered?

It was a mild, windless night, sometime before dawn on 1 September 2022, when a large grey wolf trotted out of the woods beside Beinhorn, a hamlet of old barns and graceful wooden houses in the German state of Lower Saxony. The keen nose of the male wolf almost certainly scented that Dolly, a pretty chestnut pony with a white patch on her face, was vulnerable. The 30-year-old pony, kept in a paddock close to stables and a farmhouse, was not protected by high-voltage electric fencing designed to deter wolves. It was an easy kill. In the morning, Dolly’s body was found in the long grass; her owners spoke of their “horrible distress”.

Unluckily for the wolf, and perhaps for the entire wolf population of western Europe, Dolly was a cherished family pet belonging to the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, one of the most powerful people in the EU. Last September, a year after Dolly’s death, von der Leyen announced plans that to some wolf-defenders looked like revenge: the commission wants to reduce the wolf’s legal protection.

Action had already been taken against Dolly’s killer. DNA evidence harvested from the pony’s carcass revealed that the wolf was an individual known as GW950m. This mature male wolf, which heads a pack (a wolf family usually numbering eight to 10) living around the von der Leyen residence, appears to have developed a taste for livestock. DNA tests on other carcasses implicates him in the deaths of about 70 sheep, horses, cattle and goats. Experts believe younger pack members might have copied his hunting methods. Because GW950m was now classified as a “problem wolf”, a permit was issued to allow hunters to shoot him legally (wolves can only be killed under exceptional circumstances, according to EU law). It was the seventh such licence to be issued in Lower Saxony, a state the size of Denmark with a thriving population of at least 500 wolves – more than are found across the whole of Scandinavia.

Against the odds, more than a year after the licence to kill was first issued, GW950m remains at large, living quietly on a diet of mostly deer in forests east of Hanover. If the survival of this one wolf appears improbable, so is the species’ revival in north-west Europe. Wolves were mostly wiped out in Germany in the 19th century. But since one first trotted back from Poland in 2000, they have reconquered the country, which is now home to more than 180 packs – about 1,500 wolves. Their offspring have recolonised Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark. Wolves are expanding their territory from the Alps too, with the population growing from zero in France in 1992 to 140 packs. In Spain, wolves have bounced back from near extinction in the 1970s to more than 2,000 today.

Wolves have adapted swiftly and surely to human-dominated landscapes. But people are struggling to adjust to the wolves. The concentration of packs, von der Leyen declared when announcing the commission’s review of wolf protection laws, “has become a real danger for livestock and potentially also for humans”. In December, the commission proposed to reduce the wolf’s status under the Bern Convention from “strictly protected” to “protected” in order to introduce “further flexibility” – potentially enabling wolves to be hunted and populations reduced across the EU. Many populist politicians across Europe hope that talking up the threat of the wolf – alongside tough measures to tackle it – will win support ahead of next summer’s elections to the European parliament. It’s a low-cost way of showing rural voters you’re on their side. “Wolves are a subject that might change elections,” says one German conservationist.

People have woven myths, stories and fears around wolves since human culture began. For wolf-lovers, the animal’s recovery after it was hunted to extinction in much of Europe is a vital sign of hope – that nature can be restored; that humans can peacefully coexist with fellow predators; that the environmental benefits of returning an apex predator will cascade through the landscape. The impact of wolves returning to Yellowstone national park in the US – reducing grazing herbivores and allowing diverse vegetation to flourish – has caught the popular imagination (a YouTube video, How Wolves Change Rivers, has been watched 44m times), although scientists point out that wolf impacts have been overstated. On the other side, wolf-haters claim that this ruthless carnivore’s return has been naively championed by the tofu-munching wokerati who know nothing of the countryside, elevate the welfare of animals above people, and inflict misery upon farmers, hunters and country folk.

The wolf’s revival in western Europe is actually an interesting accumulation of accidents. Before its return, EU member states including Germany pushed to ensure that this disappearing species was given the highest protection under the EU’s habitats directive in 1992. When the cold war ended, many eastern European farms were abandoned, meaning that Russian populations found it easier to pad westwards. When the wolf reached Germany, it found hiding places on disused military bases – and, initially, sympathy.

“If wolves had returned 50 years ago, they wouldn’t have stood a chance, because our view of nature was very different to today,” says Kenny Kenner, a wolf expert who collects sightings and DNA data on wolves for the Lower Saxony government, and leads walks to educate people about this fascinating, complicated animal. “We see ourselves as part of nature and, much more importantly, as dependent on nature. This led to the possibility that a species as difficult for us as the wolf could come back.”

I join one of Kenny and Barbara Kenner’s weekly walks in search of wolves in Göhrde forest, 75 miles north of where Dolly was killed. For all the wolf’s wild symbolism, it is thriving in human-dominated landscapes: the intensively farmed countryside and even suburban areas of eastern Germany with human population densities higher than the city of Newcastle. Wolf packs also live close to cities such as Turin in northern Italy and Brașov in Romania. This 75 sq km forest is much more sparsely populated, however, and the heart of the local wolf pack’s territory of around 300 sq km. Each pack usually numbers around 10: a mother and father alongside their yearlings (young wolves from the previous year’s litter) and their pups.

Kenner knows this pack intimately because he tracks their paw prints and droppings, and has placed camera traps all over. The female, GW432f, is tawny and, unusually, larger than her partner, GW1559m, a pioneering male. Kenner calls him Alpino, because he is one of the first wolves from the Alpine sub-population to trek more than 600 miles to join the burgeoning German subpopulation. Alpino settled here because someone illegally shot the resident male. So when Alpino moved in, he didn’t just mate with GW432f but also with her daughter, producing 15 pups in 2022 rather than a standard single litter. For Kenner, this is a powerful example of why shooting wolves won’t control their population: disrupt a pack, and you may end up with more wolves.

Twenty minutes from the nearest road, wild boar have been rootling on the forest track and Kenner picks up prints in the sandy earth. Ruler in hand, he measures the pad: 9cm. Big enough to be a wolf, and it is fresh. Wolves are great wanderers and take the easiest routes, explains Kenner, using human-made tracks and roads when they are quiet. He positions camera traps at ride junctions, where wolves scent-mark (urinating like a dog) to declare territory.

When Kenner first began these walks, “there was this excitement about how horrible the wolf was”. People were scared to stroll in the forest with their dogs. But that’s changed over time, he says. “We shouldn’t feel threatened, but we should feel awed. Seeing them is an honour. But I wouldn’t want to cuddle them.”

The tracks are probably from the wolves stalking wild boar at dawn. “They can smell time and space – and health,” says Kenner. “What’s important to know is that we are not prey. If we were prey, we would have a gun to protect us.”

The Kenners are dismayed by what they see as populist and right-wing politicians creating a culture war over the wolf. To conservationists, von der Leyen’s comments about risks to people are inflammatory. During the wolf’s 23-year recolonisation of Germany, there are no documented cases of one even growling at a person; boar pose a much more frequent threat. There are no incidents of wolves killing people in the west of Russia in modern times; historic fatalities are from a bygone era when lone children shepherded animals in the forests. “In our society, the danger to children is nearly zero,” says Kenner. In countries such as Finland, wolves sometimes attack trained hunting dogs in the forests, but pets are rarely victims. And wolves are wary of people. Kenner shows me clips from his camera traps. One detects him walking in front of the trap. A few hours later, a wolf arrives, sniffs his tracks and moves swiftly in the opposite direction. “The wolf is not shy,” says Kenner. “He’s careful. He’s a predator, he needs to take care, but he has to take risks, too – that’s why he won’t learn from being shot.”

Von der Leyen, argues Kenner, is using her position “to start a campaign in favour of shooting wolves because of her personal ideas and experiences”. “This is a misuse of power. But it’s not just Ursula von der Leyen. In Lower Saxony, there are a lot of other politicians saying, ‘This is a catastrophe,’ and a lot of fact-free inducement to change policy.”

Two hours south, on one of the wealthiest streets in Hanover, is the headquarters of Landesjägerschaft Niedersachsen, Lower Saxony’s hunting association. It is in charge of wolf monitoring: its 58,000 sharp-eyed members are a useful, free resource for spotting wolves. According to Raoul Reding, the association’s biologist who oversees the meticulous recording of populations, we are witnessing an unprecedented experiment: “It’s never happened before, anywhere in the world, that such large carnivores would settle such densely inhabited human areas as we have here in Germany.”

The wolf has thrived, explains Reding, because of plentiful deer, but also because it is adaptable. Its pups have a high survival rate and young wolves can disperse to find new territories up to 1,250 miles from where they are born. Other European carnivores, such as lynx, stick more rigidly to forest and won’t travel such distances. Despite Germany’s 180 wolf packs, there is still a vast swathe of southern Germany to recolonise; studies suggest the country could support 700-1,400 packs.

Humans have been rather slower to adapt – and this is particularly true of livestock farmers. Across the city from Reding’s office is Land Volk Haus, HQ of the Lower Saxony farmers’ union. Vice-president Jörn Ehlers hands me two stickers: one depicts a vicious-looking wolf with a sheep in its mouth barred with a red line; the other reads: IF YOU DON’T LIKE FARMING, STOP EATING. PROBLEM SOLVED!

“We don’t want to be so noisy and make a big thing out of this,” says Ehlers. “The problem for us is that we are running out of time. The problem is getting bigger and bigger. The wolf is much faster than politicians.” Wolves first bred in Lower Saxony in 2011; last year, their packs killed about 1,000 farm animals. “We have to accept some damage from the wolf, but what we’ve got at the moment is really too much,” says Ehlers. He wants Germany to adopt the “Swedish solution”. Despite supposedly having to adhere to the EU law protecting wolves, Sweden controversially keeps its wolf population far lower than that of Germany. “In Sweden, about 300 adults are accepted in the whole country,” says Ehlers. “If it gets much over 300, they shoot them.”

Sweden and Finland also have “wolf-free zones” in vast swathes of the north: any wolves that enter areas of traditional reindeer herding are shot. Ehlers argues that Germany should have a wolf-free zone on the pastures beside its North Sea coast, where cattle and sheep graze on unfenced dykes. Here, Ehlers points out, the livestock play an important role in flood protection, because the dykes need to be grazed to keep them clear of trees. And if society wants high-welfare farm animals who enjoy life outside, he says, it will need to tackle the wolf.

Like many German conservationists, Kenny and Barbara Kenner hope livestock protection fences will solve wolf conflicts and calm rising populist fury. “Protection of livestock will take the hysteria out of the subject,” says Kenny. “If you went to the mayor and said, ‘The fox killed my hens,’ he would reply, ‘You haven’t taken care of them,’” adds Barbara. “You don’t just say, ‘Well, my dear wolf, I hope you won’t eat my sheep.’”

The Kenners recently visited farmers in northern Italy, where wolves have never been driven to extinction, and there is more acceptance of the predator. In mountainous areas that can’t be fenced, actual shepherding has to return, or protection dogs are stationed to stop wolves predating livestock. “They are really astonished that the Germans feed their wolves on sheep,” says Barbara.

In Germany, not every farmer is fighting against the wolf. Thomas Rebre and his shepherding partner keep 300 sheep and 30 goats in the forests of north-east Saxony. “Here in Germany, it’s like every day is Halloween. For the wolves, it’s just meat for their puppies. Our work is to say ‘no’ to the wolf, ‘This is not your meat.’ All these emotions, all this crying – the wolf is not good or evil, it’s just what the wolf does,” he says.

Since wolves arrived, Rebre has invested in electric net fencing which is high voltage – 7,000 volts – but not very tall, 1.05-1.2 metres. Wolves don’t like jumping into an enclosure, says Rebre, but they will dig under fencing, so there are posts every 2 metres, ensuring the fence is tight to the ground. Rebre moves his sheep, and fences, every day, receiving payments for “conservation grazing”. He got financial support from the Lower Saxony government for his fencing, but thinks there should be more funding for wolf-affected farmers. Erecting the fencing takes up to two hours’ additional work each day.

This autumn, Rebre took his sheep into the heart of Göhrde forest to undertake conservation grazing. Kenny Kenner was worried. He feared the wolf would not be deterred by the shepherd’s electric fence, so he fixed 20 camera traps around it. One night, a camera showed the male wolf slink over to the fence to size up the sheep. “It came close, watched them for two minutes, and left,” says Kenner. Rebre’s sheep were unharmed.

“Wolves really, really fear electricity,” says Rebre. In 15 years, he has lost just one animal, a goat, to the wolf. Nevertheless, the farmers’ union insists that fences are not the whole solution. They estimate that it would cost too much – €2.2bn in total – to fence all livestock in Lower Saxony against wolves (conservationists argue it is only essential to fence sheep, calves and foals; wolves are unlikely to kill many adult cows and horses). “We need fences, yes, and that’s our responsibility as farmers,” says Ehlers. “But we also expect to be able to kill problem wolves and keep the population stable, and not see it grow every year and increase the problem.”

The hunt for von der Leyen’s nemesis, GW950m, has not gone well so far. In Lower Saxony, if DNA evidence proves the same wolf has attacked livestock more than once, a licence can be obtained to allow hunters to kill that “problem” wolf. (This term is disliked by the Kenners: “A wolf who eats sheep may be a problem for us, but it’s just wolf life,” says Kenny. “What’s he supposed to eat? Asparagus?” adds Barbara.) The process is slow, and allows for legal challenges. “This bureaucracy is just not adapted to practical wolf management,” says Raoul Reding of the hunters’ association.

Ironically, a request for a licence to kill GW950m was issued the day before it killed Dolly, the pony, because of other attacks on livestock. Since the licence to kill was approved in October 2022, it has been revoked and reinstated several times after being challenged in court by pro-wolf groups. A fresh permit was issued in October 2023, which was later again blocked by the courts.

Last autumn, hunters thought they’d got their quarry when they shot a mature wolf not far from Beinhorn. It turned out to be his mate, the female. Since wolves returned, licences have been issued to kill seven “problem” animals in Lower Saxony, but killing the “right” wolf is easier said than done. “Under a normal hunting situation, at a distance of more than 100 metres, with bad light, and with the wolf’s dense winter fur, it’s really difficult to identify the age and sex of the animal,” says Reding. “To date, we have shot seven wolves because of huge amounts of livestock depredation, and the ‘right’ wolf has never been killed – the one that has been shown to be responsible.”

For all its 58,000 members, Reding says that many of his association’s hunters can’t be bothered with the hassle of hunting wolves. Wolves are elusive, live at low densities, and most hunters prefer their traditional deer hunt; a wolf kill under licence is usually just “bycatch”. Hunters are also discouraged by the actions of pro-wolf campaigners. Reding says they have sabotaged wolf hunts, putting nails on forest tracks to puncture hunters’ tyres, and even sawing the wooden legs of the “high seats” hunters put in forests. In turn, the head of an illegally killed wolf was dumped on the road outside nature protection charity Nabu’s office in Lower Saxony; wolf conservationists say their vehicle tyres have been slashed too.

And yet, surprisingly perhaps, Nabu agrees that Germany should streamline the process to kill problem wolves, a change that is now even supported by Steffi Lemke, Germany’s federal environment minister (and Green party co-founder). “I think it is possible to make it easier to tackle wolves who make problems,” says Marie Neuwald of Nabu. “It should not take months of bureaucratic processes to get a decision if this wolf should be shot or not.” What Neuwald wants, however, is more transparency to prove a “problem” wolf really is a threat to livestock.

Many hunters and farmers want to go further. Reding thinks “a pragmatic solution” to the difficulties of killing just one wolf could be to shoot the entire pack. But Kenny Kenner insists that shooting wolves to protect livestock “is definitely not going to work. Wolves won’t learn not to eat sheep by being shot.” A study of wolf populations over 25 years in three US states found that livestock losses actually increased after wolf culls because packs were broken up, new pairs formed and the animals appeared to respond by breeding more. In France, where 19% of the population is now shot each year, sheep kills have still risen, from 10,000 to 15,000 each year.

Wolf debates are dominated by problems, but what of their benefits? A German study found that deer became 1.5kg heavier after wolves returned. “The hunters should be happy. They have 1.5kg more meat per shot,” says Kenner. “The prey is much healthier than before; they are stronger. Diseases that might even spread to humans are prevented because wolves eat the sick.” Forests are healthier and more biodiverse too, he believes, because there are fewer plant-eating deer.

And yet Marie Neuwald at Nabu is careful not to overstate the benefits of wolves. “It is not honest to say wolves will save our ecosystems here, or our forests,” she says. As apex predators in a wild landscape, wolves regulate prey populations. “But in Germany we have a cultural landscape – we don’t have this natural system where wolves are one of the most important puzzle pieces.” Wolves are unlikely to significantly reduce deer numbers because there’s still so much food for the deer.

The Kenners say American friends laugh at “the German angst” over the wolf when North Americans live alongside five big mammalian carnivores (wolf, mountain lion, grizzly bear, black bear, coyote). “The problem in Germany is we have a very emotional outlook on the subject,” says Kenner. For all the usual extremes on social media, I’m struck by the moderation on both sides of the debate in Germany. Frank Fass, a former aeronautical engineer who opened the Wolf Center to educate Germans about wolves in 2010, believes Germany’s wolf population will grow and eventually be considered stable enough to allow an annual cull. “A farmer will say for hundreds of years we had no wolves in Germany and we don’t need them,” says Fass. “I can see their point of view. We don’t need them really, but it is a creature from the universe – as is a bird, a cow, a horse. Coexistence is possible and to live in coexistence with the wolf, it is not a straight road.”

I head to Burgdorf, a neat little town surrounded by pasture and woods where GW950m is still living free. “I take walks regularly in the forest around Burgdorf,” says local resident Lorenz Reinhard. “The papers are full of wolves, but I haven’t seen any yet.” Can people and wolves get along? “The hunters can’t really kill them all,” he says. “There are two sides to everything – to the wolf as well.”

Will GW950m evade capture? At the scene of Dolly’s killing, horses continue to graze in Ursula von der Leyen’s paddocks, apparently unprotected by anything more intimidating than a couple of strands of electric fence. There is no trace of GW950m in the woods. The scariest thing by far that I encounter in this landscape is the armed police officer striding along the quiet lane, tasked with protecting the European Commission president’s country home.

Read full article on The Guardian

Recently Added Skip Hire Companies

Gings Ltd - Skip Hire and Waste Management
Skip Hire Wirral
Skip Hire Scunthorpe
Centro Waste
Trikon Clinical Waste
Sheridan Skips Lancashire
Sheridan Skips
B&M Skips
Skip Hire Coventry
Waste Management Services Company
Skip Hire Kent
Farnek Skip Hire
UK Carpet Cleaning Service
Skip Hire Wolverhampton
Skip Hire Woking
Skip Hire Wigan
Skip Hire Westminster
Skip Hire West Bromwich
Skip Hire Watford
Skip Hire Warwick
Skip Hire Worcester
Skip Hire Wandsworth
Skip Hire Walsall
Skip Hire Wakefield
Skip Hire Torbay
Skip Hire Telford
Skip Hire Tamworth
Skip Hire Swindon
Skip Hire Swansea
Skip Hire  Sutton Coldfield
Skip Hire Sutton
Skip Hire Sunderland
Skip Hire Stockport
Skip Hire St Helens
Skip Hire Worthing
Skip Hire York
Skip Hire Stoke
Skip Hire Warrington
Skip Hire Southwark
Skip Hire Southport
Skip Hire  Solihull
Skip Hire Slough
Skip Hire Sheffield
Skip Hire  Rotherham
Skip Hire Rochdale
Skip Hire Redditch
Skip Hire Redbridge
Skip Hire  Reading
Skip Hire Preston
Skip Hire Poole