Europe and Central Asia
2 May 2016

Spring: the time for breeding or the time for logging?

The population of Black Stork in Latvia has declined by 52% since the late 1980s. One of the reasons of failed breeding attempts is disturbance by forestry during the breeding season. Photo: Agris Krusts
By Viesturs Kerus

The EU Birds Directive requires Member States to prohibit the deliberate destruction of birds’ nests and the deliberate disturbance of birds, particularly during the breeding season. In Latvia, you would be fined if you destroyed a bird’s nest. Unless you are an FSC-certified manager of public forests.

In that case, destroying no less than 50.900 birds’ nests by logging every spring would be a normal practice that would cause no nature conservation authority to flinch.

Sadly, Latvia is by no means an exception. Although there are various restrictions across Europe – ranging from laws to only guidelines – on forestry operations during breeding season, in most cases they are far from the ‘general system of protection for all species of birds’ that is required by the Birds Directive.

So why is there no outrage from conservation organisations? Why has no country ever been taken to the EU Court of Justice for breaching the Directives on this issue?

The simple answer is: the forest birds seem to be doing fine. The data compiled by the European Bird Census Council (EBCC) show that while the farmland bird populations are on a steady decline, the forest bird index has been relatively stable. However, the answer is not that simple.

If we take a look at the forest bird populations on a regional scale we see that the forest birds are doing better... where there are fewer forests. The EBCC forest bird index is increasing in “western Europe”, which includes mostly (with the exception of Austria) countries with the share of forest area well below the overall forest coverage of the EU. However, in the most forested countries (particularly in Scandinavia), forest birds are on a decline.

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Of course, it is likely that the main reason behind the declines of forest birds is the destruction and degradation of their habitats, and not disturbance and the destruction of their nests. However, the phrase ‘to kick someone when they’re down’ applies here. Even if the main reason for the population declines is the destruction of habitats, lead poisoning, climate change or pesticide use, the destruction of the nests can exacerbate the negative impact of other factors.  

And philosophy aside, there is nothing in the Birds Directive that justifies the widescale disturbance and destruction of nests for forestry, even in the case of common species with stable populations.

The requirements of the Birds Directive are based on sound conservation logic. The beginning of the breeding season is the time when populations of the birds reach their lowest point after all the losses suffered during migration and the winter. It’s why spring hunting of birds is banned in the EU.

Although in the most cases logging of forests does not kill adult birds, in the best case scenario, their breeding is delayed or in the worst case, abandoned for the season altogether. This hinders the efforts of the species populations to restore itself.

We focus a lot of effort, and justifiably so, at creating awareness of the illegal killing of large numbers of migratory birds every year in countries around the Mediterranean Sea. We also should not forget about stopping the killing of young birds in our forests even before they face their first migration.


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.