Europe and Central Asia

BirdLife Europe & Central Asia - Press Release 15 December

Bird Conservation International (BCI) publishes paper on illegal killing & taking of birds in Northern & Central Europe and the Caucasus

Today the peer-reviewed quarterly journal Bird Conservation International publishes a paper [1] entitled "Illegal killing and taking of birds in Europe outside the Mediterranean: assessing the scope and scale of a complex issue". Led by the BirdLife International partnership with input from experts across the region the paper exposes the scale and scope of the illegal killing of birds across these regions. It is estimated that 0.4 - 2.1 million individual birds per year may be killed illegally in Northern and Central Europe and the Caucasus region – mainly for ‘sport’ or ‘predator/pest’ control.   

Illegal killing of birds remains a major threat in Europe, despite the fact that 28 of the countries recently assessed by BirdLife are parties to the legally binding Bern Convention (on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats), and 19 are also Member States of the European Union, obliged to implement its benchmark nature laws, the Birds and Habitats Directives [2].

The new paper offers a first scientific baseline on illegal killing of birds in Northern Europe, Central Europe and the Caucasus.

The bird groups most seriously affected (in terms of absolute numbers) are waterbirds and seabirds, followed by passerines. In Azerbaijan alone between 160,000 and 900,000 waterbirds are estimated to be killed illegally per year. Raptors, as well as pigeons and doves are also badly affected. The bird group with the highest percentage of species affected are the raptors – 51 of 52 raptor species are affected by illegal killing. In many countries raptors are persecuted through poisoning, shooting and trapping as part of illegal ‘predator/ pest’ control.

In the Caucasus, the lead driver behind illegal bird killing is ‘sport’ and food. In Northern and Central Europe, the main motivation behind illegal bird killing is predator and so-called ‘pest’ control.

Of the worst 20 ‘blackspots’ for illegal killing identified in these regions, 10 are in Azerbaijan, but EU countries like Germany, the Netherlands and Bulgaria also feature.

For some species of conservation concern – like the globally Near Threatened Little Bustard or the Endangered White-headed Duck – the toll imposed by illegal killing may be too great for the species to sustain. Respectively, on average 10% and 3% of their global population may be killed each year. For some migratory species, illegal killing in each country along their route, alongside mortality from legal hunting and habitat loss, is likely to add up to a significant impact.

The paper shows that despite good protection on paper we are a long way from achieving ‘zero tolerance’ of illegal killing in this region, but there is hope on the horizon. BirdLife partners are working hard in collaboration with others to tackle illegal killing of birds throughout this area. The governments of the Mediterranean and Europe are working together with other stakeholders including NGOs through the CMS task force on illegal killing, taking and trade of migratory birds and the Bern Convention to face this difficult issue head on, take action, share information and ideas and measure progress.

BirdLife International CEO, Patricia Zurita, stated: “We all have to stop this massacre and realize there are rules and regulations in place for a reason. Birds are part of our common heritage, one that we are responsible to take care of and pass on to new generations in better shape. BirdLife’s data shows in this paper how poorly we are doing and how much room for improvement there is. BirdLife International as the global champion for safe flyways continues to use science to underpin our conservation action and we hope the shocking results of this paper galvanizes action to end illegal killing across Northern & Central Europe and the Caucasus.”

Donate to support BirdLife International’s work to stop the illegal killing ENDS

For further information, please contact:
Christopher Sands, Head of Communications
BirdLife Europe and Central Asia
+32 (0)2 280 08 30

Zeynep Karasin, Media Officer
BirdLife Europe and Central Asia
+32 (0)2 541 07 81

[1] Brochet et al. (2017) Illegal killing and taking of birds in Europe outside the Mediterranean: assessing the scope and scale of a complex issue. Bird Conservation International.
The Killing 2.0, A View to a Kill, which includes information from the BCI paper is available online  

[2] The Birds and Habitats Directives are the EU’s flagship nature laws that represent the cornerstone of EU-wide efforts to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity. These laws are responsible for the creation of the largest and most coherent network of protected natural areas in the world – the Natura 2000 network.

All numbers in The Killing 2.0 are rounded, mean estimates. For non-rounded, mean numbers and minimum/maximum estimates, see the scientific papers: Preliminary assessment of the scope and scale of illegal killing and taking of birds in the Mediterranean
(Brochet et al., 2016) and Illegal killing and taking of birds in Europe outside the Mediterranean: assessing the scope and scale of a complex issue (Brochet et al., 2017). 

BirdLife International is the world’s largest nature conservation partnership. With 120 BirdLife Partners across the globe, it is recognised as the world leader in bird conservation. It is a not-for-profit charity founded in 1922, and now has grown into a global partnership of conservation organisations that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources.


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.