20 Jan 2019

Serbia: Protecting birds in face of conflict

Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia have received the prestigious Marjan-Marsh award, which recognises exceptional contribution to an area where conservation and conflict overlap. They are dedicated to preventing the illegal killing of migratory birds in the face of great challenges.

BPSSS are protecting the Turtle Dove protected from illegal killing in the Balkans © Godbolemandar
BPSSS are protecting the Turtle Dove protected from illegal killing in the Balkans © Godbolemandar
By Shannon Anstee

The Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia (BPSSS – BirdLife Partner) are the proud recipients of the Marjan-Marsh award. The award is run in partnership with the Marjan Centre for the Study of War, the Non-Human Sphere at King’s College London and the Marsh Christian Trust and is given annually to an individual or group which has made an invaluable contribution in an area where conservation and conflict overlap.

The history of the Balkans has been one of conflict and tension. Although the Balkan wars stopped in 1990, conflicts have continued, with many of the parliamentary groups morphing into criminal syndicates. The syndicates run everything from guns and drugs to illegal cigarettes – and the trade also extends to wild birds.

The Balkans is a major flyway between Africa and Europe, so migratory birds are plentiful in this area. Birds are trapped for pleasure or recreational hunting as well as being a source of food. The birds most often targeted are songbirds, quails and doves. The trade is prevalent despite international laws that forbid it and restrict shooting to certain periods. 

Luckily for the many hundreds of birds that use the Balkans as a stopover site on their migratory journey, the BPSSS are combatting this illegal trade. This group of highly-motivated conservationists are passionate about protecting birds despite facing much aggression from others, including death threats and abuse.

Casualties of hunting in Serbia © BPSSS

Since 2001, BPSSS has been actively lobbying for a hunting ban on the Common Quail and Turtle Dove in Serbia in collaboration with various NGOs. A lack of law enforcement in the region means that both the Common Quail and Turtle Dove are rapidly declining. Birds are poached using electronic calling devices and semi-automatic guns. In 2014, BPSSS began active fieldwork, searching for, locating and reporting the use of illegal calling devices. Since this time, BPSSS has collected data on over 3,000 bird crime cases that include poaching, poisoning, illegal possession and trade.

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To date, BPSSS has worked hard to raise awareness about the issues facing birds in the country. They have produced over 3,000 copies of leaflets, posters and brochures on the threat that bird crime poses. In addition, they have produced a documentary that details the threat of bird crime in Serbia.

In recognition of their dedication, the BPSSS was presented with the Marjan-Marsh award in London on the 14th of November. The award is a prestigious recognition of BPSSS’ hard work over the past 30 years.

Thanks to the continuing work of the BPSSS, there is ongoing hope for the safe flight of birds as they make their way through the Balkans.