Europe and Central Asia
5 May 2015

Romanian hunting law threatens wild birds and violates the Birds Directive

Skylark © Razvan Zinica
By Lisa Benedetti

Romania is about to approve a law that will allow spring hunting and trespassing on private property. The legislation would clearly violate the Birds and Habitats Directives, but it also poses some serious implications for Romanian citizens. BirdLife Romania and other NGOs are on a mission to stop this.

This new law, being pushed forward at very high speed, goes against the Birds Directives because it would allow the killing of birds during spring migration. This is a critical time for migrating birds on their way to breed and it just does not make any sense to kill birds before they have a chance to reproduce and replenish numbers. The legislation would extend the legal hunting periods for up to 3 months, including spring migration, for 18 species of birds, mostly goose and duck species (Northern Pintail and Gargany among them). It is particularly threatening for non-target species like the endangered Red-breasted Goose, which forms mixed flocks with target species and then gets accidentally killed.

One of the other 18 species for which this law would apply is the Eurasian Skylark. It’s one of Romania`s most beloved birds and has been an inspiration for many great musicians all over the world. It is so appreciated for its beautiful song that Romanians give all their best singers the nickname ‘Skylark’. It is currently legal to hunt Skylark in Romania and five other EU countries - Greece, Cyprus, Italy, France and Malta. But the Skylark population in Europe has declined up to 50% since 1980, so extending the hunting period would only worsen the situation. Also, people are known to hunt under the guise of targeting skylark, but end up killing other species that are legally protected as well.

The proposed law is an attack on the rights of land and property owners. If it passes, it would allow anyone in pursuit of a wild bird to walk onto any private field or property without permission from the owner. The rather weak argument from the government is that wild game is owned by the state, so anyone in pursuit of wild game should be allowed to follow their target wherever they like without consent. A bit ironic in places where NGO`s and foundations have bought lands and forests with the precise purpose of protecting wildlife. This proposed law also has implications for places that are supposed to protect birds and nature in Romania, like Natura 2000 protected areas. That is, hunting liberalisation would undermine the management of these sites.

Another remarkable thing is that the law would not just change the game for Romanians. If it goes ahead, it would actually lift all restrictions from foreign hunters and allow them to legally set foot on anyone’s land all across Romania in chase of wild birds. Until now, foreigners needed an invitation from a land owner or administrator to access land to hunt wild game. Songbirds are already being hunted in massive numbers in Romania, especially by Italians who travel to Romania to hunt. If this piece of legislation goes through, there will be a songbird massacre.

In 2009, police caught an Italian hunter with 2000 Crested Larks, a species that is not on the list of huntable species. In 2010, 15 Italian hunters were caught with 1000s of Skylarks, Crested Larks and Quails. In 2011, a shipment of over 11,000 Skylarks hunted in Romania and ready to go to Italy were intercepted by the Hungarian border police. In 2013, an Italian hunter was caught with over 5400 Skylarks. At this rate, we will only hear songbirds in the museum", said Ovidiu Bufnilă, spokesman for Societatea Ornitologica Romana/BirdLife Romania.

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Our BirdLife Partner, with support from its members and other NGOs, are not remaining silent as all this is happening. They are now leading a campaign to send a message to their Parliament that nature is important and Romanians will not stand by and see their songbirds massacred. 

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.