Europe and Central Asia
15 Mar 2015

The European Hunters Association stands up against illegal killing of birds

By BirdLife Europe

By Filippo Segato, Secretary General, FACE - Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation of the EU.

When German travellers visited Italy in the 18th and 19th century they were not only fascinated by the sights of ancient archaeologic sites but remained impressed by the lines of nets adorning the beaches facing Africa. Today this unsustainable practice has disappeared from the coasts of Italy. This is due to the prohibition of nets adopted in 1969 which was enshrined ten years later in the Birds Directive.

The Birds Directive itself was inspired by the European Parliament’s 1974 petition ‘Save the migratory birds’, which in the first instance raised issue of the wider use of chemical insecticides, and their drastic impact on the natural food sources required by healthy bird populations. Secondly it called for the European Community and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to adopt measures against persecution of birds, and Community measures to regulate hunting. Some 40 years later we are witnessing a mixture of progress and failure in meeting these concerns.  

In spite of some progress the perception that indiscriminate massive killing of birds is going on the shores of the Mediterranean is still widespread.

The concern is justified. While in the European Union the Birds Directive positively contributed to make hunters aware of their role in birds conservation, black spots remain representing a threat to migrating birds, but also tainting the reputation of hunters as a force for conservation, investing considerable resources in restoring habitats, monitoring birds and policing hundreds of square kilometres of wild habitats seeking to prevent wildlife crime.

In the EU all birds are protected by the Birds Directive. Hunting as a form of control and management is permitted on a limited number of species under very clear conditions such as the seasons and defining which practices are legal. Anything outside this legal framework is to be considered illegal. The term illegal hunting is an oxymoron.

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FACE abides by this European-wide framework upholding the principle of sustainable use that must have no prejudice to the conservation status of birds but that recognises that the “use of wild living resources, if sustainable, is an important conservation tool because the social and economic benefits derived from such use provide incentives for people to conserve them”. This quote comes from the IUCN Policy Statement on Sustainable Use of Wild Living Resources (2000).

That being said, the killing of birds outside the legal provisions is a crime. FACE has a firm position condemning illegal activities because it reinforces the argument that when conducted in a sustainable way the taking of birds is legitimate. Legislation in the EU is far from being lax, as two prominent UN officials recently stated (The Guardian, 3.3.2015). In 35 years the Birds Directive has been implemented meticulously and pervasively throughout 28 Member States. The oversight of the European Commission is ensuring the strictest environmental safety net for birds in the world. In spite of this scientific studies prove that biodiversity and habitats loss are the main primary causes of declining populations of birds.

European hunters must also show leadership in addressing the problem of illegal killing of birds outside the borders of the EU territory as many migratory species coveted by hunters are exposed to practices that are not sustainable and risk endangering their very existence. FACE is partner together with BirdLife International of the “EU Roadmap towards eliminating illegal killing trapping and trade of birds” that seeks increasing the awareness of enforcement agencies on this issue and deploying action plans to eradicate illegal practices.

FACE is also working with AEWA and CMS seeking to set up a Task Force on illegal killing, trapping and trade of birds in the Mediterranean Region. 

European Hunters have a central role to play as they live close to wildlife and have a personal stake in addressing and combating illegal killing. As stakeholders they must be involved in designing appropriate measures against illegal killing recognising the distinction between unsustainable practices and legitimate, sustainable use and trade of wild resources.

Enhancing the sustainability of uses of wild living resources involves improving the management of those resources. This is the area where FACE and European hunters are key. Eradicating illegal practices is in the interest of the hunters themselves as this implies reducing risk and uncertainty in the sustainable and scientifically based management of wildlife.


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.