At the edge of Poland, close to the sources of the river San, a beautiful valley divides the forests on both sides of the border with Ukraine. An ancient lime tree in the meadows and a charming overgrown cemetery remind the visitor of bygone times, when this valley was intensively used by peasant families.
Now large trucks come to the Upper San to carry off the hay, which is mowed thanks to European subsidies. Large herbivores that could do the job for free have problems to reach this area, as they are hunted in the forests at one side, and poached at the other side of the valley.
The Upper San valley itself is free of hunting, but yet it is a surprise that we see a fox in broad daylight, wandering along the forest. Less than one hundred meters from us, we can see that he is lying in the grass. A beautiful animal with a clearly defined throat and a white tip of the tail. His eyes focused on the trucks as he obviously knows that when the trucks and mowing machines are gone, the fields leave a lot of food behind: mice, grasshoppers, beetles… If not dead, then at least without the cover of the long grass.
While our colleagues are standing apart, having a fierce discussion about the future of the San Valley as a rewilding hotspot, Pierre-André is taking his camera and decides to approach the fox as close as possible. And I, curious about how far he could go, decide to follow him. Less than 80…60…40 meters; the fox is still looking at the large machines. Finally we stand at less than 25 meters from the animal as it gets up, not even rushed, and quietly walks away. No fast, hunched run, but upright, at ease. Not a chance that he had survived, if we had guns instead of a camera and a pair of binoculars…
OK, so this is how you can experience wildlife in hunting free zones, even if there are big hunting areas around. And this is only a fox, which can spend his whole lifetime within such a small hunting free zone as the Upper San Valley. But imagine that this open valley is connected, by a hunting free corridor, with the summer pastures that cover the ridges of the Carpathian mountains. That free roaming herds of deer, wild horses and European bison migrate between those seasonal habitats without the risk of being shot. There could still be a flourishing hunting economy around these corridors, but then at least we had one area in Europe, where we could experience the natural migration of European wildlife – no longer shy of people – over tens of thousands of hectares. With wolves following those herds, lynxes waiting for their chance to take a young deer, bears living from the carcasses. That’s what came to my mind, just thanks to a fox.