New regulations put waterfowl under fire in Belarus
In Belarus, spring hunting continues unabated. Every year it is a thorny issue for conservationists trying to ensure that society, hunters and lawmakers understand the huge environmental repercussions. Alesia Basharymava from APB-BirdLife Belarus tells us more.
It is a cold, hard fact that spring hunting has a devastating impact on bird populations. In spring, birds that have survived the winter must breed and the risk that a breeding female may be shot down is far too great. Indeed, for every female duck that is shot, there is potential knock-on loss of between six and a dozen further individuals of that species. Human error carries a high price and it is nature that pays for these mistakes. And this is before one even calculates the risk of other common mistakes – like when an endangered species such as the Lesser white-fronted goose or Ferruginous duck is mistaken for a legally huntable species.
Most countries in Europe have paid heed to the science but there are notable exceptions. In Malta, the spring hunting of quail is allowed and in Belarus, the spring hunting saga has been a sad case of ‘one step forward, two steps back’.
One step forward, two steps back
APB-BirdLife Belarus has been advocating for a spring hunting ban on waterfowl since 2010. And in 2013 – thanks to public pressure and support from scientists – the Ministry of Forestry reduced the season for waterfowl from two months to 28 days. But after only a few short years, this progress has been reversed.
In spring 2017, a chain of events was set off when a group of international hunters was detained in the Palessie region of Belarus after they were caught shooting protected European widgeon and Mallard hens. The hunters were fined large sums and as a result the flood of ‘hunting tourists’ flowing through Belarus rapidly dried out. This niche tourist sector is highly profitable with many hunters from countries like Italy (where spring hunting is illegal) pouring into the country. Belarus is a particularly attractive destination as it doesn’t restrict the number of birds that can be shot in a single day and it permits the use of any decoys and multi-shot guns. Unsurprisingly, decline in this lucrative industry prompted huge outcry from those set to lose out. Pressure on the government to revise hunting regulations grew fast and in March of this year, the President of Belarus signed an order annulling the 28 day spring hunting limit for foreign hunters.
This short-sighted decision will have far-reaching ramifications for Belarus’ bird populations. Conservationists at APB warn that it will be severely detrimental in the Prypiatski National Park. The low-lying land of the Prypiats River is located along one of the most important flight routes in Europe, but the park also rents territories from other game management units in order to organize more ‘international hunting tours’ and maximize its profit in the spring season.
List of hunting species extended
To add insult to injury, the list of species permissible to hunt during the spring season has been extended. Before the recent regulation changes, it was already legal to hunt males of Mallards, Shoveler, Tufted duck, Pochard, Garganey, Teal and Gadwall. It was also legal to hunt the Greylag, Bean, White-fronted and Canada geese species. But now, a species previously taken off the national Red List of threatened species 12 years ago – the Goldeneye – has been added to the list.
Pavel Pinchuk, ornithologist, warns of the consequences of taking the goldeneye’s recent recovery for granted – ‘For a long time the number of Goldeneye has been increasing, but it may soon drop dramatically. More than likely, it will happen. Unfortunately, since we don’t have a good monitoring system in place, we will find out about this after it is too late’.
It’s time Belarus gets its priorities straight – bird protection depends on it.