By Jessica Williams, Flyways Conservation Officer at BirdLife International
As a nature protection NGO, we often get asked why the EU does not do more to tackle the rampant illegal killing and trapping of wild birds in European countries. In reality, the European Commission has a strong commitment to tackling the illegal killing of wild birds – even more so when they are kept on their toes by NGOs like BirdLife!
The landmark Birds Directive, created in 1979, was explicitly designed to protect the populations of all bird species from illegal killing and habitat loss. The EU Bird and Habitats Directives has provided some of the most robust environmental protection legislation in the world.
In 2005, the EU’s European wild bird trade ban was implemented to counter the spread of the avian flu: this was an enormous victory for NGOs advocating against trafficking of wild animals. It hugely reduced the volume of illegal trade globally and provided a template other regions aspire to.
However, almost as important in the fight against the illegal killing of birds is the European Court of Justice, which has the power to enforce EU legislation in Member States, a legal instrument that is lacking from other international environmental conventions.
Nevertheless, although the legislation is strict on paper, the EU does not have unlimited power. Especially when it comes to the most important tool to tackle the illegal killing of birds: enforcement. This remains a competency of the national governments. The EU can only intervene when national attempts have failed and/or a national court misinterprets the Birds Directive. So, for all the authority of the European Court of Justice, this can take lots of time to be effective.
There is also the possibility for a national government to request exemptions to the Birds Directive. These national derogations from EU legislation mean that the law is not uniform across the union. As a result and under certain conditionsa Chaffinch could be trapped legally in Austria, while its trapper would be fined in Germany.
The EU does intervene directly to tackle the unlawfull derogations on the taking of birds at national level, including halting the killing of Ortolan Bunting in France, stopping the derogation on Finch trapping in Malta, and stopping derogations on Finch trapping in Spain. All of these cases were brought to court by BirdLife partners at the national level before being escalated
Without the EU and its legislation, our fight would be a lot harder.
The European Commission also funds enforcement agencies such as Europol and IMPEL (the European Union Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law) to tackle wildlife crime within the EU and funds international conventions, such as the CMS (Convention on Migratory Species) Task Force on Illegal Killing of Migratory Birds which has a much broader geographic scope than the EU-27.The European Commission’s funding instrument for environmental, nature conservation and climate action is called the LIFE programme, which supports targeted projects, like the LIFE against Bird Crime project that brings together several BirdLife partners to fight against IKB.
BirdLife has been instrumental in pushing the agenda in the international fora. With our partner organisations, we have been working for long years to get this issue the political recognition that it deserves and finally, just this summer, a monumental step in the right direction was taken by national governments across the EU, North Africa and the Middle East. A new joint strategy to eradicate poaching of birds in the Mediterranean region was agreed and a commitment to reduce the illegal killing of birds by 50% by 2030 in the Mediterranean approved by all governments – including those EU countries considered as some of the “worst offenders”, such as Greece, France, Italy, Malta and Cyprus.
As part of this international strategic plan, called the Rome Strategic Plan to tackle illegal killing of birds, governments from across the EU, North Africa and the Middle East have also agreed to the principle of ‘zero tolerance’ of illegal killing, trapping and trade in the long ter
The EU is can be an ally in the fight to eliminate the illegal killing of our common natural heritage within and beyond its territory. However, EU commitment alone is not enough; we all need to pull together. BirdLife will continue to apply the pressure at EU, international and national level to put an end to these illegal activities.