Illegal killing of wild birds, protected by the EU Birds Directive e by National laws, is still widespread across Europe and largely considered as unimportant and acceptable in several regions of Italy, Greece and Spain.
The underlying causes of this problem are largely related to the lack of awareness among public authorities, local communities and general public. Local communities are unaware of the importance of migratory birds as a crucial part of European biodiversity and have limited knowledge about the current legislation. Law enforcement agencies are scarcely informed about the legal provisions on the Birds Directive and are unaware of the procedures which must be followed in order to address illegal killings of wild birds.
The illegal trapping of migrating and wintering birds has a long history in South West Sardinia (Sulcis); the activity was banned since 1939, but the ban was never sufficiently enforced.
Targeted birds are mainly Thrushes. Migrating and wintering birds are caught with a number of different illegal devices: snares, traps and nets. The ‘grive’, as they are locally known, are then sold to local restaurants, on the market or offered as precious gift in special occasions.
Illegal killing activities peak between October and December but do also take place from September till March,while it is possible to find traps along trails in the woods all year round.
It is estimate that 300,000 birds are killed illegally every year; on average 18,000 traps (between 2005 and 2010) were removed per year by LIPU in collaboration with the local Police Authorities. The Sulcis area is a very important site for migrating Blackbird and for Song Thrush. Illegal activity is concentrated in the Sulcis, most of the 300+ active trappers are local people who traps following a ‘tradition’ but due to the decline employment opportunities poaching for food or cash has increate.
Illegal killing during spring migration has taken place for decades in the Ionian Islands, more intensely on Zakynthos, Strofadia, Corfu, Paxoi and Othonoi.
This illegal activity is deeply engrained in the local culture. It also represents an economic benefit for the local community, as land in the best “spots” is rented out expensively during about three weeks between end of March and the early April. The illegal activity in the Ionian Islands is particularly severe: surveys indicate that gunshot numbers may reach up to 15,000 per day.
The main species targeted is the Turtle Dove, whose conservation status is classified as ‘Unfavourable’ in the EU with a negative trend was caused by the habitat destruction and unsustainable levels of exploitation, and illegal killing. During the illegal spring killing, several other species of migratory raptors and herons are shot.
The illegal killing during spring in the Ionian Islands is controlled. In 2010 seven arrests were made, when shooters reach hundreds, and no shooter has ever been fined or received punishment.
A significant number of wild birds (an average of 120,000 to 430,000, but in some years up to 2 millions) are illegally killed in Spain every year. This includes rare or protected species with unfavorable conservation status. One of the most widespread illegal activities is the ‘parany’, a method of trapping birds when they land in trees specially pruned and impregnated with lime, preventing them from fluing and causing them to fall on the ground.
The species affected are mainly Thrushes but also many other species are caught. Up to 30% of the bird species caught are protected by law.
Trappers are active primarily at night, during the autumn migration and particularly during the weekends and holidays. Each autumn, hundreds of thousands of protected birds are trapped and killed in more than 2,000 illegal paranys distributed throughout the regions of Castellon, north of Valencia, Tarragona south and southeast of Aragon involving 3-6,000 people. In these regions up to 1.5 million birds are killed in just over one month.
In recent years there has been an increase in the number of paranys, but the penalties for illegal trappers have declined and local authorities do not intervene as it is considered a ‘traditional’ activity.