Low flying army helicopters leaving dead or distressed farm animals in their wake in Gelderland have cost the defence ministry €350,000 in damages in the last five years.
Most claims were reported in the region Land van Maas en Waal, where the ministry had to compensate farmers to the tune of €300,000 between 2020 and 2022.
“People understand the pilots have to do their training, but I have heard of people whose businesses have suffered. There was a chicken farmer for instance, whose chickens wouldn’t lay as a result of a low-flying helicopter,” mayor of Maas en Waal Vincent van Neerbos told broadcaster NOS.
Another farmer had to kill his horse after it was spooked by a helicopter and bolted into barbed wire. “The helicopters fly underneath the pylon cables and the horses panic,” farmer Gerrit Bonestroo, who is still waiting for his claim to be paid, said.
“There are some sad stories,” army spokesman lieutenant-colonel Remy Helmhout told the broadcaster, “but we have to do it to increase our chances in military operations.”
Being able to fly low and hide between buildings and trees in war zones is important, Helmhout said. Most of the training takes place on the Veluwe and in the Maas and Waal region where helicopters can fly low but not lower than 45 metres.
Although the payouts were higher in the last few years, the number of reports fell form 429 in 2021 to 130 the following year, even as the number of training flights increased.
“We think the number of claims fell because of the war in Ukraine. People realised that we had to prepare for an escalation of the war,” Helmhout said.
Not everybody was as understanding, however. In March, a man from Uddel took a potshot at one of the helicopters, after having complained in vain about low-flying helicopters over his land for years.