Illegal killing of birds remains a major threat in Europe – new report

24th October 2017

The Killing 2.0

Today the BirdLife Partnership presents The Killing 2.0, A View to a Kill. Led by BirdLife International with input from experts from the region, including BirdWatch Ireland, this report exposes the scale and scope of the illegal killing of birds across critical 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 ‘pest’ control. The report highlights that a more robust system of monitoring is required in Ireland to accurately tackle illegal killing of birds here.

The Killing 2.0 shows that 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.

The bird groups most affected (in terms of absolute numbers) are waterbirds followed by songbirds. In Azerbaijan alone between 160,000 and 900,000 waterbirds are estimated to be killed illegally per year. Birds of prey, as well as pigeons and doves, are also badly affected. Indeed, the bird group with the highest percentage of species affected are birds of prey, or raptors, as they are also known – 51 of 52 raptor species are affected by illegal killing.

In both Central Europe and the Caucasus the lead driver behind illegal bird killing is sport. In Northern Europe the main motivation behind illegal bird killing is predator and so-called ‘pest’ control. The 20 worst locations reported for the illegal killing of individual birds in Northern Europe, Central Europe and the Caucasus are found in six ‘hotspot’ countries: (alphabetically) Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Germany and the Netherlands.

Commenting on these findings, John Lusby, BirdWatch Ireland stated: "It can be difficult to comprehend the sheer scale of illegal killing when faced with such significant numbers of birds affected across such a wide area, and it is important to remember that behind these figures lies a significant and shameful problem which continues to threaten biodiversity across Europe.

"This report greatly increases our understanding of the scale of illegal killing of birds across Europe, as well as the species and regions worst affected. It also identifies the drivers of this illegal killing, which is essential if we are to take effective action to tackle the issue. However, the report also serves to highlight the complexity of this issue and the challenges we face. It is clear that lack of data on illegal bird-killing across much of Europe remains an obstacle to effectively addressing this problem, and this is something which we need to improve if we are to make real progress in reducing the scale and impacts of illegal killing.

"In Ireland, although the estimate of birds illegally killed is lower than for most other countries assessed, the lack of evidence and recording compromises such estimates, highlighting the need for a more robust system of recording illegal killing of birds. There is a currently a system in place to record the illegal killing of raptors in Ireland, and such a system should be extended to all bird species affected. We have seen some horrific cases of persecution of raptors in recent years, however, even with raptors, it is likely that monitoring efforts only record a proportion of incidents which occur, and although the legislation in Ireland is robust, enforcement clearly remains an issue.

"We know that illegal killing of birds through shooting, and poisoning as well as illegal taking of wild birds such as song birds is happening here in Ireland and it should be a priority to implement systematic monitoring to collate robust data, necessary to underpin enforcement of existing legislation and conservation actions."

BirdLife International CEO, Patricia Zurita, stated: "You, me, all of us, have to stop this massacre and realise 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 is showing how poorly we are doing and how much room for improvement there is. “The Killing” report two years ago helped us to enact important changes in countries like Cyprus and Italy. 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 The Killing 2.0 help galvanise action to end illegal killing across Europe, the Caucasus and the rest of the flyway."

The new report The Killing 2.0 offers a first scientific baseline on illegal killing of birds in Northern Europe, Central Europe and the Caucasus. However, this is only the beginning, we need to collect more data and increase monitoring to be able to track progress on tackling this issue.

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