June is observed as the month of hunter’s guild and nature conservation in Slovakia. However strange it may sound to some ears, the two things are not mutually exclusive. It all depends on what sort of hunters we are talking about, and what we see as nature conservation.
As a girl growing up in the socialistic Czechoslovakia, I was exposed to first ‘environmental’ education at primary school, although it wasn’t called liked that back then. We were taught basic survival skills, as well as simple rules on how to behave in the forest in order not to disturb animals. And this is what members of Slovak hunting communities still do these days at public events organized in June.
Back to my teenage years and another memory comes to mind of obligatory ‘summer activities’ we had to do during our summer holidays. I remember staying in the mountains with my class when we were seventeen. Every morning of the two-week assignment we were loaded into heavy forest vehicles together with regular workers (men and women from nearby settlements), and taken up to hillsides to plant trees or clear overgrowth around young saplings. It wasn’t an easy job, and a few ‘city teens’ weren’t very happy about it, but we all loved sitting by the fire in the evening roasting rashers of bacon on a spit and singing to the guitar. And this is what you can still experience at hunters events these days.
At the time of collective ownership of the land and centralized forest management, all hunting communities had to comply with the tough rules imposed by the state. Hunting was part of agricultural production and as all other economic sectors, it was planned. Animal populations were closely monitored and strict quotas were enforced to protect endangered species.
Today, almost 60% of our forests are in private hands or owned by the Church, villages and towns. In 1993 the right to hunt was returned to the owner of the hunting grounds. Since 2009, when another law was passed stipulating that hunting activities must be in accordance with the interests of nature and landscape conservation, a hot debate has been raging between hunting communities and conservation groups to find a consensus over the extent of their activities.
Hunters Days in June are an excellent way for hunting clubs to communicate their intentions for the future to the general public.
As you would expect, good wholesome food is part of this dialogue. Traditional goulash parties, where you can taste various game goulashes for free, are the highlight of the programme.
I have included a few game specialities in the long-awaited A Taste of Slovakia, Part 2 (Autumn) book. All hunters I met through the work on the book, as well as those I remember from my childhood and teenage years, were clever, dedicated people with immense knowledge of nature and wildlife. I spent hours listening to them and asking tough questions, trying to see their point of view and putting it down on paper.