Europe and Central Asia
15 Mar 2015

Italy, Spain and Greece join forces to change culture that supports illegal killings

Trapped Falcon © LIPU
By Lisa Benedetti

In most countries the Illegal killing of protected wild birds would seem rather uncivilized and the methods used barbaric, so you might be surprised that it is still quite common in some regions of Italy, Greece and Spain. Leaving is Living is an ambitious three year campaign run by LIPU (BirdLife in Italy), SEO/BirdLife (BirdLife in Spain), and HOS (BirdLife in Greece) to raise awareness and change local attitudes about this serious issue.

The extent of illegal killing of wild birds in some hotspots in Italy, Greece and Spain is simply unacceptable in this day and age. One might ask why is it not much of an issue in these places. Some consider it a minor crime, others say it’s an old tradition, there is even some political support because of votes at local and regional levels, and in some cases it’s even about manly pride. The issues are clearly different in each country, but the overall message is the same, that education and awareness are keys to stopping the crime from occurring. But how does one change old attitudes that run deep in culture and society? The first step in changing attitudes is awareness, the step that follows is acceptance, and then comes the willingness to change.

In Sardinia (Italy), the main challenge is the illegal trapping of migrating and wintering birds. This practice has a long history and is rampant in South West Sardinia (Sulcis), although it has been banned since 1939. Migrating and wintering birds, especially Blackbird and Song Thrush – but many protected species are killed as well, caught with various illegal devices: snares, traps and nets. The 300 or so active trappers known to do this are locals who trap to follow a long standing ‘tradition’. It is believed that about 300,000 birds are killed illegally here every year. The captured birds, or ‘grive’, as they are locally called, are then sold to local restaurants, or are offered as gifts for special occasions.

In Greece, Illegal killing takes place during spring migration and is a practice especially engrained in the local culture of peoples inhabiting the Ionian Islands, one of the most significant migratory corridors in Greece. Surveys indicate that during spring, gunshot numbers in these islands may reach up to 15,000 per day. The Turtle Dove, whose conservation status in the EU is classified as ‘Unfavourable’, is the main species targeted, but several species of migratory raptors and herons have been shot as well. Despite the fact that illegal killing during spring is controlled in the Ionian Islands, and there have been arrests (in 2010 seven arrests were made), no person caught red handed has yet to receive a fine or punishment.

In Spain, one of the most widespread illegal bird killing activities is ‘parany’. A ‘parany’ is a tree pruned to have tall branches and then set up with rods that are coated with a very sticky lime substance. Illegal electronic calling devices are then used to lure birds to the parany. The bird’s wings then become glued and stuck to the rods, or then fall to the ground where they are killed by poachers. This activity contravenes Spanish laws and the Birds Directive due to its massive, non-selective character. Each autumn, hundreds of thousands of protected birds are trapped and killed , by up to 6,000 poachers in more than 2,000 illegal paranys throughout the regions of Castellon, north of Valencia, and Tarragona. The highest numbers caught are Thrushes, but many other species, including Robins, Blackcaps, and Redstarts are also killed. Overall, a huge number of wild birds (on average 120,000 to 430,000, but in some years up to 2 million) are killed illegally each year in Spain, including rare and protected species.

The Leaving is Living campaign is wide in scope and is taking action to fight the practice of illegal bird killings in Italy, Greece and Spain at national and international levels. It is targeted at decision makers, local authorities, hunting groups, local communities, the general public, and in particular, the young. A key objective is to raise awareness amongst key stakeholders along the migration routes of the species and especially teach them about the effects of illegal killing of birds on local and European biodiversity. A second goal is to change socio-cultural attitudes in younger generations. A third priority is to support law enforcement, through increased awareness and better coordination among law enforcement authorities.

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So far about 33 million people have been reached via social media, videos that have gone viral, radio, newspapers and television. Several hundred children in the hotspots have met with environmental educators explaining the importance of wild birds for biodiversity and hundreds of law enforcement agents have been informed about the seriousness of the crime.

Leaving is Living brochure:

This initiative has been made possible by the contribution of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union, through the project LIFE11 INF/IT/253.

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.