Magazine article The Spectator

They Even Kill Cats

Magazine article The Spectator

They Even Kill Cats

Article excerpt

Magione

HERE in Umbria the hunting season is again upon us. Black Sunday - the first Sunday in September - has been and gone. From now until the end of January the hills around us will resound with gunfire. Seven years ago, just at this time of year and impelled by much the same stress of feeling, I wrote a newspaper article about Italian hunting (which means shooting creatures, mainly small) from the point of view of one living in rural Italy and so seeing, and suffering from, the business at first hand. We still live in the same, very beautiful place; and the fact that it is autumn now and was autumn when I wrote before is not really a coincidence, because it is then that the season is in full flush, the ardour of the hunters hasn't been dampened by rainy mornings, there hasn't yet been time for us to develop even a partial resignation to the loud reports of the rifles, the killing and wounding in our immediate vicinity.

In those days we were recent arrivals; there was much that was unfamiliar to us. There were things we should have made sure about in advance and somehow didn't: whether there was enough water, for example; whether there was any de facto right-of-way through our land. We were lucky in these respects - luckier than we deserved. But it did not occur to us to ask about the hunting; and in any case we could hardly have known that our four acres were on an ancestral hunting route, that generations of men with guns and dogs had come down through these terraces of olive and wine, down into our little wood and along our stream, shooting at practically anything that moved.

So a lot of shouting and quarrelling went on at the beginning, both sides suffering from a sense of outrage: they, because we were disputing what they felt to be a birthright; we, because we didn't want them blasting away at small birds under our noses. Then we made a number of discoveries, from the effects of which we are still reeling. The hunters were allowed by law to shoot on our land, with or without our consent, so long as they came no closer to the house, with gun loaded, than 200 metres. At least, this is the distance as stated in the local regulations governing the hunt, posted up each autumn in the nearby village. But if you apply to the Corpo Forestale, the body responsible for protecting the surrounding countryside from damage - including that by hunters they will tell you that the distance is 100 metres, except when shooting in the direction of a house, when it is 150 metres. The essential absurdity of this inclines me to think it is the true version. The only way to keep hunters out, even to this extent, was to fence the land. However, although the law does not actually give them the right to break down your fences, it does the best for them it can: it forbids you to fence the land at a distance from the house greater than 50 metres. From this blow to good sense and basic human rights we have not yet recovered. It is a classic example of careful regulation resulting in essential lawlessness. We had legal title to the land but we couldn't stop people shooting on it, unless we built fences that we were forbidden to build. And this limit of distance, which in any case is impossible to determine by inquiry, how on earth, in a remote rural area like ours, could it be enforced? How could we know whether their guns were loaded or not? Would we want to argue about it much with men armed with lethal weapons, men often primitive and of murderous disposition?

We tried mild forms of sabotage, as did some of our neighbours. We took our heavy-duty motor grass-cutters up to the higher olive terraces and made as much noise with them as we could. The American couple living on the hillside above us would turn their music up full blast; `Only You', sung by - I think - David Whitfield, booming through the hills, confusing hunters and dogs alike. But these attempts were abandoned after a while. The grass-cutters were too heavy and too difficult to handle in such steep places, and David Whitfield at that volume was not much preferable to the frenzied yelping of the dogs and the hideous detonations of the guns. …

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