EU moves to protect large carnivores

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Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Populations of brown bears have increased in many parts of Europe

The EU is to allow farmers to receive full compensation for any damages caused by attacks from protected animals like lynxes, wolves and bears.

Other expenses including installing electric fences or acquiring guard dogs to prevent damage will also be fully reimbursed.

The EU says the move will help protect large predators in areas where they have come into conflict with humans.

Campaigners hope it will limit the need for culls.

After many decades of decline, the numbers of large carnivores like wolves and bears are stable or increasing in many parts of Europe, often due to concentrated conservation efforts.

There are now around 17,000 brown bears in Europe, spread over 22 countries. While they remain threatened they have done well in places such as Cantabria in northern Spain where their numbers have almost doubled in ten years.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Wolf sightings have increased in Germany and France in recent years

But conservation success is also increasing the chances of human-wildlife conflict.

Wolf numbers have increased in Germany to such an extent that the animals now roam into the Netherlands where they have been linked to an increase in attacks on sheep .

Despite these wild carnivores being protected by law in most countries, that hasn't stopped farmers reaching for their guns when their domestic animals have been attacked.

This has become a significant issue in some countries. In France, around 10,000 sheep were killed in wolf attacks in 2016, with the government paying out some €3.2m in compensation.

Now the EU hopes that by relaxing the rules on reimbursing farmers for the damage done by carnivores, it will lessen the need for farmers to kill these threatened species.

Under the new arrangement, member states will be able to fully compensate farmers for damages caused by wolves and bears. The farmers will also be entitled to compensation for building electric fences and buying guard dogs.

Indirect expenses, including veterinary bills for the treatment of wounded sheep or cattle, and the costs of searching for missing animals, will also be fully met.

Animal rights campaigners welcomed the move.

"It's taking away an excuse for killing the animals by saying there are preventative measures you can take which can reduce, if not completely eliminate the threat," said Dr Jo Swabe from Humane Society International.

"We hope it will make a difference on the ground."

Image copyright NurPhoto
Image caption French farmers have held protests against plans to allow wolf numbers to increase

There has been a lot of pressure from governments in Germany and France to allow culls of wolves as a way of protecting domestic livestock. And some have raised concerns that humans could also be attacked.

"You have essentially scaremongering politicians saying we need to have this option because sometimes it could be a child that's attacked," said Dr Swabe.

"But if you look at wolf behaviour, it's highly unlikely that a child would ever be attacked. They have more to fear from us than we have from them."

While the EU has sanctioned increased payments for farmers in the hope that this might reduce the need for culling, the money has not always been forthcoming from governments. Experts say that in Romania, for example, payments for damage caused by large carnivore attacks have been withheld.

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattmcgrathbbc .