Europe and Central Asia
5 Jun 2015

That graveyard for birds, the Mediterranean Sea

Joint LIPU & Sardinia Forestry Department - illegal rifle, snares and traps © LIPU
By Lisa Benedetti

The Leaving is Living campaign awards enforcement agencies for fighting the illegal killing of birds in the Mediterranean. NGOs working side by side with police, responsible hunters and volunteers are making a difference, but the battle must continue to make the illegal killing of birds a thing of the past.

Across Europe, especially along the northern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, birds protected by national and EU (Birds Directive) laws have been suffering from illegal killing such as shooting, trapping, liming, and capture for the live bird trade. In most cases, illegal killing targets migratory species, which are the most rapidly declining group of birds in Europe, many threatened species. The Leaving is Living campaign, run by LIPU (Italy), SEO (Spain) and HOS (Greece), and supported by the LIFE Programme, has been helping change this. Part of their success is because of the law enforcement agencies and staff who have instead of turning a blind eye, had the courage to join the cause. This past May 21st, some of these agencies received a Living is Leaving Award for their tireless efforts.

At the core of the campaign is education and awareness raising to try and change local attitudes in three places where illegal killing of birds is rampant: Sulcis (SW Sardinia), the Ionian Islands (Western Greece), and eastern Spain (Catalonia, Valencia and SE Aragon). Part of the campaign has been to improve enforcement, and since it began hundreds of agents from different enforcement agencies in the three countries have become involved. In recognition of their dedicated efforts they have just received Leaving is Living Awards, and as you read further you will find out why.

Sardegna is a black spot (term used for illegal killing of birds) because it lies along a major migratory route. Birds, many that are protected species, are killed and then served secretly in restaurants as ‘Grive’, supposedly a local delicacy. The activity has been banned by law, but traps are still being set by local poachers. The traps used are terrible as they strangle caught birds with a slow death. Several law agencies on the island have been very active in anti-poaching efforts against this, and for this reason have received the Living for Leaving Award. First, the Capoterra Station of the Carabinieri Italian military police. Side by side, they have been a constant presence with volunteers in support of LIPU’s anti-poaching camp. They have helped remove many traps and nets set by poachers, and have been instant responders to calls when illegal trappers are seen or found. They were the first on the scene after the attack suffered by LIPU’s President when he was hit by a large stone thrown by a poacher. The Capoterra Carabinieri also saw to the persecution of several poachers and seizure of hundreds of birds and mammals ready for the black market. The Sardinian Regional Forestry and Environmental Guards of Capoterra were also awarded for being an active force for bird protection on the island. They have been effectively coordinating work between the different Forest Guard Stations active in the Cagliari province and helped create a team of specialised wildlife crime investigators. They’ve identified a number of ‘poaching operation centres’, seized home-made firearms and numerous traps for bird and mammal capture, and have also denounced 22 people for crimes linked to poaching.

Along the Mediterranean coast of Spain, up to 1.5 million birds, hundreds of thousands protected birds, are illegally killed each autumn. The Service for the Protection of Nature, one of the most respected agencies in the country, received the Leaving is Living award for their anti-poaching efforts. They are true nature defenders and are on the constant prowl for wildlife crimes, even chasing poachers at times. The Spanish Association of Forest and Environmental Agents received an award for their contribution to the fight against poaching as well, especially the use of prohibited hunting methods such as lime, traps, the plundering of nests or the use of poison.

The Ionian Islands of Greece are situated along a major bird migratory route and are the first land some birds reach after leaving the coast of Africa. Here illegal killing during spring migration has taken place for decades as a tradition, but nowadays the situation has changed so much with bird populations declining and methods improved it simply cannot be called a “tradition”. Fortunately, the Strofades Islands are two safe havens for migratory birds because they are protected from Illegal bird killing. The Forest Directorate of Zakynthos, Hunter Association game guards, port authorities and Monastery of Strofadia, operate mixed patrol groups on the islands for two months during spring and scour the land to deter illegal activities. The Forestry Directorate received an award for their tireless efforts in making these islands a safe stop over site for migratory birds.

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The Forestry Directorate received an award for helping make these islands a safe stop over site for migratory birds. They managed to build an agreement between the hunters and the Monastery (owner of the Strofades Islands) to work together to enforce the hunting ban at least on those islands, the first land some tired birds reach after leaving the coast of Africa.

The fight against the illegal killing of birds is gaining momentum across the Mediterranean. It can only be effective on multiple fronts: improving law enforcement, education and awareness. The Leaving is Living campaign, along with the efforts of police, responsible hunters, and volunteers are making a difference, but the battle must continue to make the illegal killing of birds what it should be, a thing of the past.


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.