Firstly you can buy the hiking map issued by the Eifel Association (Wanderkarte des Eifelvereins). Secondly, all official paths are signposted, and you can also get an overview from the information panels at the access points. Please make sure you observe the rules and prohibitions given there, which apply throughout the protected area.
Roe deer, red deer, wild boar and mouflons.
Roe deer, red deer and wild boar have proliferated and spread rapidly across central Europe again over the last 150 years. Their numbers have increased dramatically in Germany in recent years. One reason for this is the agricultural landscape, which is rich in sources of food, but others are the deliberate feeding of game with maize or corn, and the establishment of so-called “game meadows” near the forest, rich in herbs for game.
Herbivore populations are mainly regulated by conditions in their habitat, especially the food supply. Having said that, weather conditions, parasites and disease also have an effect on the number of animals in a particular area. Less important statistically in comparison with these factors is the influence of predators such as the bear, lynx or wolf.
In the National Park, nature is supposed to be left to its own devices as far as possible. For this reason, no animals are fed here.
Especially in winter, when other food sources are scarce, roe deer, red deer and mouflons eat the buds on young trees. If there are too many of these animals, the natural propagation and development of deciduous trees may be impeded - what the roe, mouflons and red deer really like are beech and other broadleaved trees. These are far more attractive to game than conifers. Without intervention to control game numbers, it is at the moment therefore impossible to convert the non-native coniferous forests of the National Park back into near-natural deciduous forests by planting young beech trees, for example. The number of large game is currently still so high, that young trees of species such as beech, sycamore maple, cherry, ash, rowan, aspen, and willow are rarely found without a protecting fence.
The many roe and red deer in the Eifel National Park influence the forest with their browsing. This has the potential to impede or even prevent the National Park from achieving its conservation goal - the development of near-natural forests. On the agricultural land bordering the National Park, economic damage may be caused by wild boar in particular, as the animals seek food in the fields and dig up the ground in meadows. In order to promote forest development and prevent economic damage, the number of large game must therefore be kept under control. The Eifel National Park Administration checks the influence of game on forest development regularly. It can then deduce whether, where and what sort of regulation is required.
A complete renunciation of intervention would be in keeping with the National Park philosophy of “letting nature be nature”. In principle hunting has thus been suspended in the National Park. This is laid down by law in the Eifel National Park ordinance. The ordinance also states that game can be regulated, however, if this is necessary for the preservation or development of natural forest communities. This is the case not only in the Eifel National Park. The number of red deer in particular, but also other ungulates (hoofed animals), is regulated in all German National Parks (EUROPARC position paper on hunting – in German). When and how this happens in the Eifel National Park is outlined in turn in the National Park’s hunting regulations. There are thus so-called “resting zones” in selected areas (e.g. almost 1.000 hectares on the Dreiborn plateau). In other areas of the National Park game is only regulated if it is necessary for the following reasons:
to combat epidemics among the game,
to avoid damage caused by game outside the National Park or
if conservation goals of the National Park such as the development of near-natural plant communities are threatened by the game.
Only red deer, roe deer, wild boar and mouflon are controlled. All other animals such as foxes, stone martens and hares, as well as ravens and waterfowl, are not hunted.
Various regular surveys are conducted to find out how many large wild animals live in the National Park. One thing the studies investigate is to what extent the animals influence forest development. In order to do this, certain areas to which roe and red deer have no access are compared with areas where the game is able to seek food. The different development of the plants shows what influence the animals have. The red deer are also counted each spring in the same places.
The National Park Administration aims to reduce intervention in the game populations to a necessary minimum. Natural processes in the National Park are to be interfered with as little as possible – even if the game populations have to be reduced. This is why the emphasis is on hunting young animals, because the mortality of young animals is very high in nature, too. There is no “trophy hunting”, either, i.e. the hunting of older animals for their large antlers.
Game is currently culled only by shooting. Hunters wait for the animals in raised hides, and so-called drive hunts are carried out. During drive hunts, the animals are driven or flushed out of their cover by beaters and dogs that bark when they are on the scent of an animal. This is an efficient means of regulating wild boar, roe deer and red deer populations in short periods of time. It is carried out in the National Park mainly from October to December. The potential hunting season is thus shortened to a matter of weeks, and the animals are not disturbed during most of the rest of the year. They can thus in time become more confident, so that visitors to the National Park can experience them better.
Hunting measures are coordinated by the Eifel National Park Forestry Office. More than 100 hunters who are not part of the Administration participate in the hunting for an annual fee. They must attend at least one training course on the Eifel National Park per year. Anyone who wishes to go hunting, whether privately or as an employee of the National Park Administration, must present proof of his or her shooting skills each year.
The meat of the shot animals is sold locally. Before it is sold, various biological investigations are carried out to establish the health, age, size and weight of the animal carcasses.