Europe and Central Asia
1 Mar 2018

The Silence of the Leaders

© Sonia Goicoechea
By Gui-Xi Young

A ‘Silence of the Lambs’-inspired demonstration organised by BirdLife in Brussels last Friday saw 133 European NGOs demand more money for the EU to protect biodiversity. With nature conservation glaringly absent from the discussions on the future of Europe, civil society called on those gathered to break the ‘Silence of the Leaders’.

It’s been almost 30 years since the American horror-thriller movie ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ smashed through cinema box offices around the world, but the words ‘Hello Clarice’ – so macabrely delivered by Sir Anthony Hopkins as the infamous villain Dr. Hannibal Lecter – is still spine-chilling. In those same 30 years, another unnerving silence has fallen – one more terrifying for being so inescapably real. What has happened to the music of the hedgerows and long meadow grasses of Europe’s rural areas – the chirps, chatter, coos and caws of our beloved farmland birds?  ‘Silent Spring’, as Rachel Carson famously wrote, has arrived because populations of farmland birds are in freefall, down a staggering 55% in the last three decades alone.  Nearly a quarter of our bumblebees (crucial for pollination of our food crops) face extinction, with scientists warning that ‘Insectageddon’ – the increasingly rapid collapse of insect populations – is a precursor to global ecological disaster for wildlife and humans alike.

© Sonia Goicoechea

"those oft-quoted words of Hannibal Lecter suddenly come across in a new light: ‘I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti’. Yes, but the real question for our times is – were the fava beans and grapes sustainably grown?"

One of the biggest drivers of this environmental destruction is unsustainable farming, with its intensive destruction of habitats and over-reliance on chemicals. And yet, here in Europe this devastation is funded out of the biggest pot of money to come out of the EU Budget – the €58 billion Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). 

As this real horror story unfolds, with its horrific effects upon wildlife, the climate and our health, those oft-quoted words of Hannibal Lecter suddenly come across in a new light: ‘I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti’. Yes, but the real question for our times is – were the fava beans and grapes sustainably grown?

© Sonia Goicoechea

And there is another silence hanging eerily in the air. The silence of Europe’s leaders. In the face of this biodiversity crisis, where is the talk of action? Where is the talk of solutions? Nature conservation has been glaringly absent from the discussions on the future of Europe. There has been, however, quite a lot of lip service paid to the UN’s popular Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but without concrete budgets for biodiversity, the EU risks losing credibility with its citizens. With EU Heads of State and government in Brussels on Friday 23 February for crucial EU Budget discussions, BirdLife Europe, led by our German partner NABU, organised a ‘Silence of the Lambs’-inspired demonstration close to the European Council building.

Interview with Associated Press © Sonia Goicoechea

Volunteers braved the Belgian cold weather to don masks of the 27 EU leaders, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and President of the European Council Donald Tusk. Masks bearing a death’s-head hawkmoth over their lips – like that in the iconic poster for ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ – to symbolize ‘The Silence of the Leaders’ over the biodiversity crisis.

133 civil society organisations and NGOs joined our call to ‘Break the Silence of the Leaders’:

Nature is dying. Break the ‘Silence of the Leaders’ – more money for nature in the next EU Budget


Gui-Xi Young – Editor and Campaigns Officer, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia


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