Millions of birds killed illegally each year in Europe, new report finds

Published by James Orr on

October 25th, 2017

Illegal hunting continues to be a major threat to Europe’s biodiversity with millions of birds being killed each year, a new wildlife conservation report reveals.

Research for the new report was led by BirdLife International with input from scientists across Europe, including experts from Birdwatch Ireland.

The report provides the first scientific baseline on illegal killing of birds in Northern Europe, Central Europe, and the Caucasus, with an estimated 400,000 to 2.1 million birds killed illegally per year.

Of the countries that were assessed in the report, 28 are parties to the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and 19 are Member States of the European Union who must enforce the Birds and Habitats Directives.

In Central Europe and the Caucasus recreational hunting is the main reason for illegal killing Photo: Dr F. Eugene Hester

The report is the second coordinated by BirdLife International that exposes the scope and scale of illegal killing. The first report published in 2015 found that more than 25 million birds are illegally killed in the Mediterranean region each year. In Italy and Egypt there are 5.6 and 5.4 million birds killed annually.

John Lusby, BirdWatch Ireland Raptor Conservation Officer said that the new publication is a “significant body of work” that will “inform effective action to tackle the issue.”

Mr Lusby said that the report “highlights the complexity of the issue”. A “pan-European approach” was necessary, he said, as “many of the species affected have ranges that span several countries or the entire continent”.

“It is clear that lack of data on illegal killing of birds across much of Europe remains an obstacle to effectively addressing this problem.”

Illegal Hunting and Predator Control

Of the 457 species of birds assessed in the report, 66 per cent were reported to be significantly affected by illegal hunting.

In Central Europe and the Caucasus recreational hunting is the main reason for illegal killing, while predator and pest control is the driving force in Northern Europe.

Some bird groups are more susceptible than others to illegal hunting, the report finds, with waterbirds particularly impacted.

Eurasian Skylark Photo: Zeynel Cebeci

Eurasian Skylark Photo: Zeynel Cebeci

The report estimates that in Azerbaijan alone between 160,000 and 900,000 waterbirds are illegally killed each year.

Raptors are also badly affected with 51 of the 52 raptor species in Europe under threat despite their legal protection.

The report identified six ‘hotspot’ countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Germany and the Netherlands – where the 20 worst locations for illegal killing are found.

BirdLife International CEO Patricia Zurita insists that this “massacre” must stop and that there are “rules and regulations in place for a reason.”

She said that the report illustrates “how poorly we are doing and how much room for improvement there is.” Ms Zurita hopes that these “shocking results” will “galvanise action to end illegal killing”.

Golden Eagle Photo: Kdsphotos

Golden Eagle Photo: Kdsphotos

Irish Context

Even though Ireland has one of the lowest rates of illegal bird killing of the countries studied in the report, experts say that it is still a major threat to our natural heritage.

Illegal hunting has hindered the progress of the reintroduction programmes coordinated by the Golden Eagle Trust and persecution of raptors is often reported.

Mr Lusby said that a “lack of evidence and recording” of illegal killing in Ireland “compromises the quality of the estimates” for the country.

He called for a “more robust system” of recording the illegal killing of birds, which he said is necessary to “underpin enforcement of existing legislation and conservation actions.”

There is a system in place that monitors the recording of illegal killing of raptors in Ireland but Mr Lusby insists that this must be “extended to all bird species.”

Mr Lusby added that it should be a “priority to implement systematic monitoring of illegal killing of birds in Ireland” which would allow stakeholders to “set priorities, track trends and monitor the effectiveness of responses”.

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James Orr

James is The Green New's Biodiversity Reporter and a wildlife and landscape photographer based in Dublin. James has a BA in Zoology from TCD.