Europe and Central Asia
16 Feb 2016

BirdLife Partners join forces to prevent illegal poisoning of wildlife

Migrating birds such as the Common Crane are especially at risk of illegal poisoning. Photo: Jozsef Gergely/BPSSS
By Sanya Khetani-Shah

Imagine you are an eagle or vulture looking for your next meal over some European farmland or the countryside. You spot what appears to be a dead mouse just below you and you swoop in to gobble it up, happy at the easy meal.

But soon, you start to feel lethargic. You don’t have the energy to hunt or fly long distances. The weakness continues to overpower you until you literally drop dead from the sky. Cause of death: an illegal poisoned bait.

Poisoned baits (a food item laced with insecticides, rodenticides, fungicides or herbicides) are used in the EU (and in many other countries around the world) in the countryside to kill predators deemed a threat to livestock and game species hunted by humans, as well as to protect crops against certain animals. This, despite being banned by the Birds and Habitats Directives – the EU’s foremost nature laws – and the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats.  

The illegal use of poison is a direct threat to European species such as the Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti), Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca), Red Kite (Milvus milvus) and the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus). Very large numbers of birds are killed annually as a result of the deliberate misuse or illegal use of poisoned baits. These baits also endanger other wildlife: they could be eaten by an animal or bird of prey that wasn’t the target.

To eradicate this practice, SEO/BirdLife in Spain and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB, BirdLife in the UK), launched the European Network against Environmental Crimes (ENEC). With the backing of the Criminal Justice Support Programme of the EU, ENEC brings together European associations of prosecutors (ENPE), judges (EUFJE), police (EnviCrimeNet) and hunters (FACE). ENEC aims to improve the implementation of the Directive 2008/99/EC on the protection of the environment through criminal law.

Earlier this month, the ENEC adopted a proposal for a European Action Plan to combat illegal poisoning of wildlife. The document proposes a coordinated strategy for all Member States to prevent, deter, monitor and ultimately, prosecute cases of illegal poisoning within the entire EU in a unified way.

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“Many migratory species, such as Red Kite or Egyptian Vulture, are threatened by the use of poisoned baits. The problem is that they are not equally protected against illegal poisoning in all territories throughout their flyway,” adds Juan Carlos Atienza, head of the conservation unit at SEO/BirdLife. “It is useless to act against the use of poisoned baits in one EU country if the effort is not the same in neighbouring countries, where [the birds] could eventually die from poisoning.”

The action plan – created with the help of representatives of 20 EU countries, BirdLife Partners, judges, prosecutors, hunters and law enforcement officials – has been submitted to the European Commission, which will include the action plan in the Roadmap on Illegal Killing of Birds in order to promote joint and harmonised actions across the EU.

The document proposes measures to improve the data available on the use and impact of poisoned-baits and generate awareness on the same; to increase prevention, deterrence and monitoring of cases of poisoning of wildlife; actions to increase efficiency in prosecuting the illegal use of poison according to EU and Member States’ legislations; and control the sale of toxic substances likely to be used for preparing poisoned bait.

“This is necessary to protect Europe's natural heritage and especially when we refer to migratory species, which do not distinguish borders,” says SEO/BirdLife Spain’s David de la Bodega, project coordinator of ENEC and an environmental lawyer.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.